Requiem: a short story for a conservatory 

Note: any resemblance to real places and people is probably not coincidental. 😉 Enjoy!
                              Requiem



“Are the rumors true? Are they?” Trent, by far the youngest of the ghosts that inhabited Rowell Hall, rushed through a closed door and into the conservatory’s storage attic. His eyes were translucent yet pleading as they looked about the room for answers.

“Rumors?” the phantom of a tall man in a tuxedo, coat tails and all, stepped out from behind a moth-eaten curtain. Mr. Marvin, prior to becoming the eldest of the conservatory ghosts, had first been the eldest faculty member, ruling his orchestra with a baton of iron and a kind heart. “What rumors?”

“Don’t you know?” asked his late wife, Marie, peaking her nose through a cardboard castle from in a long-forgotten production of Camelot. “They are finally giving us that new building we asked for- I don’t know- fifty years ago. Or, at least, they’re giving it to the current students and faculty.”

“Yes! And that’s not all!” Trent all but shouted. “They’re set to demolish this building-”

“Next week,” cut in a smooth voice. The reigning concert mistress of the late 1970s floated in, her slight figure moving as gracefully in death as her bow strokes had in life. “About time, too. Finally the university cares enough to build a new music conservatory. When I went here it was already out-dated. Now- well-” she made a face of disgust “well, it’s practically demolished anyway.”

“Now you stop right there!” cried Mr. Marvin. “An attitude like that never flew in my orchestra and you know that quite well, Miss Nora! And for your information, they are constructing a new building, not a new conservatory. We were and always will be the foundation stones of the conservatory. We, the daring artists who have worked and studied here, are the conservatory; we created its legacy and remain its pillars.”

“Yes,” agreed his sweet wife, flicking away a tear which evaporated into the air. “It’s not the building; it’s the people.”

Another ghost had ascended from the stage below as the orchestra conductor was speaking. She let out a soft “harrumph” of disagreement as she rose from the floorboards. Trent started at the sound, still adjusting to the haunt life of having people appear where least expected.

“What?” he asked upon seeing the disagreement written on the newcomer’s face.

“Well,” began the ghost, a girl in a dark dress that, had she not been translucent, would have been black, “all that you two were saying is nice, but in case you haven’t noticed, we are all still here. In this place. When we could have been anywhere else. If it’s really just about the people, we wouldn’t be here again.”

“But could we really be anywhere else?” countered another ghost, who had been sitting quietly beneath a shelf in the corner. He emerged and stretched to his full height. In his hand, he clung to the score of the symphony he had died composing. He floated to the center of the room and continued his speech.

“Complain as we might have about the cramped practice rooms, the rats in the forgotten attic, the creaky stage, the overbooked performance hall, the drafty doorways…were was I? Oh yes. Complain as we might, this place has a hold on all of us. It shaped us. Sure, it’s small, but it brought us together. It’s old, but it connected the generations. It’s quirky, but it matches its residents. We worked and studied and performed here, but even more than that, we lived here and- even now- still do, in a way. We met our best friends here. We had fights here. We laughed and cried and danced and napped here. We suffered heartbreak and fell in love, all in this very building! All in this old, creaky, run-down, over-crowded building. Perhaps even because of it.”

“We are the legacy of this place, but it’s bricks built us,” whispered Marie Marvin in agreement.

The harrumphing ghost stared at the floor and, after a moment, gave a little nod. “I wore black nearly every day I was a student here, but it wasn’t because I was unhappy. I was just an accompanist.” She rolled her eyes humorously.

“Come to think of it, I was happy here. Busy, but happy… Anyway, do you think the pianos will be alright when they tear down the rest of the place?”

“I wouldn’t worry about the pianos, dear,” said Marie, her hand hovering over the accompanist’s arm to console her. “They can move them without any trouble. The organ, however…”

“What about the organ?” bellowed a voice that surrounded them. It might have been coming from below on the stage or above in the forgotten attic or the too-thin walls on all sides. But only Trent was surprised, for everyone else knew where the speaker’s ghost was hidden: inside the sixteen-foot principal pipe that sat nestled behind the stage among its dusty ranks. The organ itself had not been played since its former professor (now resident) had passed away, three decades prior.

“What about my pipe organ?” demanded the spirit of Dr. Humphrey again.

“W-well, sir,” stammered Trent when nobody else had the heart to answer. “They’re getting a new building, you see…so this one’s got to go and- well- it’s hard to move a full pipe organ and nobody really plays anymore so-”

“So the organ has to go down with the building like a captain with his ship. I suppose it’s fitting.” Resignation resonated in every word that Dr. Humphrey spoke. It was as if he had seen this coming long ago and ceased fighting, instead content to surrender with dignity to the loss of his building, instrument, and the era that they represented.

“A captain with his ship,” he repeated once more. The organist was not heard from again and the gathered ghosts knew that he had retreated deeper into his instrument, loyal to the end.

A thick silence fell over the room. Trent, in the habit of a lifelong brass player and percussionist, found himself counting rests as if afraid he might miss an entrance.

“Missed your cue!” shouted a short ghost with an impressive mustache, popping out behind poor Trent.

“Snap!” Trent flitted across the room in surprise. “Mr. Keller, you can’t do that!”

“What’s the fun of being a ghost, then?” chuckled Mr. Keller. He hovered crosslegged over a crate of old, probably-rotten stage makeup.

“How can you joke at a time like this?” The accompanist was biting back tears.

“How can you not?” he retaliated. “A good laugh and a long sleep make everything better. At least, according to the old Irish Proverb they do.”

“Long sleep,” laughed the composer. “As if anyone in this building has ever had a long sleep.”

The others laughed, but the tension settled quickly once more.

“So when do we go down?” asked Mr. Keller.

The concert mistress shot him a look of annoyance, bother by his tactless question. “You mean: ‘when does the building go down?’”

“Either way works, for I imagine we and the building are rather a packaged deal,” Mr. Marvin said. “And you yourself answered when.”

“Next week,” whispered the concert mistress. “That’s not long for the living, but for us- that’s scarcely the blink of an eye!”

The accompanist looked as though she could no longer support herself, despite being weightless, and somehow, she had turned a shade paler.

The violinist was right. Before any of them could process what was soon to happen- before a lament could be sung, an ethereal violin played, or a single, sorrowful note composed- the day arrived.

Gathered once again in the storage attic, the spirits of Rowell Hall reached for each other. Their hands, all yearning for the touch of their instruments, to take comfort in keys and strings beneath their fingers, settled for the cold fingers of their fellow phantoms. Silent, they swayed to the memory of a requiem they had all performed during their various times at the conservatory. They watched as the ceiling crumbled beneath them, revealing the splintering stage below. A small gasp rose from the bending organ pipes before the building, once so full of scales and songs, was consumed by the awful, cracking, screeching noise of its own destruction. It drowned out all else. All except the silent, fading requiem of the silent, fading conservatory ghosts.

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