Unravel

The irony is that I was unable to write this story for several months due to the demands of the everyday… enjoy! 😉

 

Unravel

Not another! she thought, plucking at a thread on her favorite navy blue jumper. It hurt her to pull on it, she was so fond of the old sweater. With a sigh, she tucked the mutinous thread back into the cuff of her sleeve. She could get away with at least a few more days of wear if she just didn’t make it worse.

The thread still poked out of her sleeve, casting a hairlike shadow over her exposed wrist. Even the shadow of it seemed the same navy color as the sweater itself. She squinted at it.

A scratch? Her declawed cat yawned innocently at her from across the room.

Ink?

Ink.

She laughed, fingering the Pilot G-2 gel pens (the only acceptable pen for writing, in her opinion) that sprouted from her pencil cup like a bouquet of blue and black flowerless stems. There were a few red poppies for editing sprinkled in between.

She clicked an old G-2 blue, the small sound echoing in the still room. The clip was broken off and the grip worn down to almost bear her fingerprints. A few shallow bite marks from either boredom or contemplation scarred its top. It was a loyal pen and something in her hand and heart relaxed as her fingers curved around it.

Oh! it was so tempting…

A fresh journal lay beside the pencil cup, its covers closed demurely yet the alluring white of its pages peeking out like petticoats.

Oh, falsely shy journal! It was flirting with the pens!

Now, there was an idea, she thought. Suggestive yet sweet…it would make a delicious poem.

Without realizing it, the writer drew the journal across the desk toward herself. Catching her breath in anticipation, she peeled open the covers, relishing the sticky, creaky sound of an unopened book, when-

No! shouted a voice. That is, if voices that only exist in one’s head can shout.

What do you think you are doing?

Although audible only in the writer’s mind, it felt to her as if the voice were speaking from the planner that lay open on the center of the desk. Its covers, a gaudy pink, beckoned shamelessly, demanding attention and spreading its pages wide, boldly revealing ribbons of to-do lists, fake jewels of unchecked boxes, and tattoos of scribbled dates and numbers.

Look here! it called. Do you see all that’s written in me? Why write fancies anew when there’s so much to do!

It taunted her in rhyme, that imagined sing-song voice of her brazen planner.
But it convinced her all the same.

With a resigned sigh, the writer slid the disappointed journal aside and turned to study the planner, which seemed to blossom with pride.

To-do, to-see, to-call, to…, to… , to… she muttered. Between each “to,” she took a large swig of coffee, not even pausing to grimace at its cold bitterness. Only a few weeks ago, she would have been savoring a cappuccino in a cozy cafe, turning espresso into expression as she wrote the day away.

But not now! No. Now it was only black coffee to get the job done. Bitter, strong, and quick. Like her. Down it went and off she went. She rose and was out the door, planner in hand and gloating at the abandoned journal, before the final drop of coffee reached her throat.

When that last drop reached her stomach, two things were forgotten: the scorned journal that yet waited for her and the pulled thread on her sweater, which, hidden up her sleeve, was growing longer by the minute.

__________

Out! Out I say! The writer scrubbed vigorously at the dark line of navy ink on her left wrist, inadvertently channeling the spirit of Lady Macbeth as she wrestled with her own “damned spot.”

Why would it not come off? The shower, usually an everyday school of Athens for the introspective soul, provided no answers. She scrubbed at the ink stain until her skin was raw, but it only seemed to stretch further, winding around her arm and up towards her collarbone like a long, wet hair.

She gagged at the simile and began to worry about this seemingly permanent stain. And then her worry turned to wonder. It is, after all, the job of a writer to generate and test all manners of fearful “what ifs” as sources of intrigue. They leave to the best stories.

Soon she found herself lost in just such a story. The inexplicable, growing ink stain was forgotten once more as she explored a host of what-ifs that would have driven any non-writer mad.

She laughed at this.

The thoughts of a writer would drive a sane person mad, she shook her wet head. Not at all! A writer is a sane person driven mad and enjoying it.

She rinsed her hair and sank back into wonder at her own imagination, not noticing that one of the hairs she rinsed was not a hair at all, but a long thread.

An alarm shook her from her reverie. Slapping a wet hand over her phone on the counter, she stumbled into dry clothes- never mind that her hair was still crinkly with shampoo and her mind still lost in a brainstorm. The alarm, the bugle cry of her planner, had sounded and she must to arms! Or, at least, to-do lists. Wandering through wonderings would have to wait.

She jammed her ink-lined arms into her faithful sweater and, gasping as the autumn air nipped at her wet scalp, stepped out into the real world to begin her daily race of classes and errands and jobs. The chilled air and weight of reality warded off any lingering twinklings of inspiration and she did not even notice that the thread of her sweater and the ink on her skin were stretching and winding themselves like a double-headed snake.

She was a student by trade and a writer in spirit. She went to university classes to succeed, but wrote to survive. Words were her sustenance and product, the very stuff of her soul.

But time and cold practicality have little use for the substance of souls, especially those of the poetic sort. So to class she went with a planner and people who talked too much as her companions.

Stifling a yawn and planning her best route to the campus coffee shop for pick-me-up number three, the writer endured her first lecture of the day. She passed the time fidgeting with her pen, her fingers dancing like a baton twirler as her mind juggled her massive list of tasks, prioritizing and categorizing and thoroughly boring her into a daze.

But twirl and juggle as she might, she dared not touch the brand new Pilot pen to her notebook for anything other than bulleting lecture notes in uninspired print. Cursive and complete sentences were just too alluring…

She was startled into alertness by a change in the professor’s tone. His pitch sharpened and his words were accelerating. It turned suddenly from a monotonous, bagpipe-like drone to the exhilaration of a Dvorak symphony. How had she never heard his passion before? Her ears prickled and her mind whirred into action.

She was captivated. How had she not seen it before? That her professor was the epitome of the quirky, scholastic archetype? The soldier-straight busy work that passed for her notes veered sideways into looping script as she launched into a character sketch. But then-

“Your assignment is…” said the professor, droning once more.

The writer’s heart sank as her pen’s dancing died with the music of the professor’s impassioned speech. It returned to its steady, uninteresting march as she recorded yet another task to complete, another deadline to meet.

Class was dismissed. She rose to leave, but gasped as the snag of her sweater caught on a rough edge of the old desk. She heard it pull longer with a tear and felt a tear leap into her eye. Why had it hurt? Had she imagined that it hurt?

Carefully, she untangled the thread from the splintered desk and tucked it back up her sleeve. It was almost too long to hide now. As she pushed it out of sight, the ink stain caught her vision as the desk had caught the snag. Was it darker than before? But then the sight of her watch, ticking away her all-too-short lunch break sent her out the door without a second glance.

__________

Not again! shrieked the writer, wincing in pain as if she had received the worst paper cut she had ever had (which is saying something, considering she was a writer). She reached down to unhook her sweater from the knob of her bedroom door, pushing her glasses up her nose and scrutinizing the sleeve for the hole that must certainly have grown larger.

But there was no hole in the sweater. It looked brand new- albeit a bit faded from over a year of near-constant wear.

She pushed up her sleeve.

The ink line was still there, but thicker. It almost looked like a vein that had lost its place and was making its way to the surface. She rubbed it and cringed. An ink stain should not hurt.

She rolled her eyes at herself. It didn’t hurt. She was imagining things.

She pressed at it again, but this time a sharp pain sent stars across her vision and she cried out.

Her cat brushed against her leg, meowing in what she imagined was concern but knew was just annoyance that he had yet to be fed. He meowed indignantly.

Blinking back tears, she reached down and booped him on his pink nose. Patience, cat. Just one more assignment to submit, one more email to send.

He hissed. What cares had a cat for deadlines? He pawed at her hand.

Not now.

Meow?

Not now. Meow. Not now. Meow. The rhyming words and sound echoed in her mind as she scanned her planner. It was the closest thing to poetry she had been able to write all month. She felt a pang in her chest at the realization.

The cat must have felt a pang in his stomach, for he welcomed himself onto the desk, pawing at her hand and knocking the G-2 from her grasp. She ignored him. He was not to be ignored and pawed at her wrist.

Good thing he’s declawed- might have snagged my sweater again, she thought absently.

The cat let out his most pitiful meow and nudged her writing hand with his nose again. He just opened his mouth to protest once more when she cried out instead.

The thread was caught on his collar. It pulled. She watched it lengthen through vision blurred with tears. Why, oh why, did it hurt?

She fumbled to unhook it from his collar, but her movement startled him and the cat leapt from the desk, taking the caught thread with him. It pulled longer, yet the sweater remained in tact. She squinted down at her sleeve, baffled.

And then she saw – too late.

The navy thread. The navy ink. They were the same.

But the color was all wrong. It was navy at first, but then black like her hair and then speckled with the red of revising, the red of poppies…the red of her blood.

Blinding pain followed by a bizarre sense of release cut across her body as the cat drew the thread around the room. She felt for it and, grabbing it, pulled. Unsure what she was doing, she pulled the thread for what felt like forever, feeling it continue to stretch longer like a scarf from a magician’s sleeve.

But it was not a scarf. It was not even a thread. And it was most definitely- she knew that now- not coming from her sleeve.

The horrid thought struck her as more and more poppy red flashed across her star-studded vision. It was not the sweater that was unravelling.

But it was too late to stop. Like picking a scab; she knew it was wrong, that it would not end well, but there was a morbid sense of satisfaction in it. And so she continued to pull at the strand until it came to an end and was abruptly cut off.

She, in finishing her own thread, had acted as her own Fate, but could not even enjoy that poetic realization.

__________

The planner’s to-do lists sat as forlorn as the untouched journal, busy mistress and lonely maiden united in their abandonment. The bouquet of pens said useless and wilting.

The watch and alarm continued to tick away the minutes, but there was nobody but the cat to hear them. And, of course, what cares a cat for deadlines? The cat simply wanted his dinner, but was placated- for now- by his new toy. He had made it for himself- wasn’t he clever?- out of a loose thread. It was not quite as nice as a ball of yarn, but a pile of blue and red and black thread was just as interesting to a kitten; it felt just as nice batted between his soft paws.

His playtime was interrupted by a knock on the door.

“Rae? called a voice. “You in there?”

“Meow,” answered the cat.

“Not you,” laughed the voice, entering the room and wondering aloud where her roommate was. She’d missed dinner.

“Do you know where Rae is?” she asked the cat playfully, giving him a scratch behind his velvety ears.

He meowed innocently, continuing to tangle his paws in the mess of thread.

“Oh dear,” muttered the roommate. “She left her sweater behind!”

She picked up the sweater which lay crumped on the desk chair and folded it neatly before turning her attention back to the cat.

“What is it you’ve got there?” she reached down to untangle him from his creation. He bristled indignantly and strode out of the room.

She studied the pile of thread she held in her hands but then abruptly let it fall to the ground again as she felt a liquid seep from it onto her skin…

Bending down, she examined it. Were those-

They were.

Was it-

It was.

As she carefully fingered the thread, she saw that it was bent in unusual shapes- letters, words- strung together in a cursive script she knew all too well.

And the moist residue. It was ink. Navy, black, and red gel ink from the pens that were always scattered around the apartment.

She took a step back, staring in horror at the pile of thread on the floor. She could not bring herself to read the words written in the inky remains, but she knew whose they were.

A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.

She recalled a quote Rae had shared with her just a few days ago.

A non-writing writer is bound to unravel.

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The Girl in the Red Dress

23517777_1510531702365350_5454757495854809805_nI am a pianist, but I have long suffered from stage fright. My junior undergraduate piano recital was yesterday and, true to my philosophy that no art is complete without a proper understanding of other art forms, I used literature such as Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner to create program notes to give greater depth to the pieces that I played.

As I was writing these notes, I realized: Why not also use literature and this wonderful union of my two arts to ease my stage fright? What if I wrote a story tracing the ideal progression of  my recital and pretended that I was an audience member?

So I did. And, to my delight, it helped exponentially! Although I was still incredibly nervous, as soon as I stepped on stage, I was no longer scared little Ryanne, but the Girl in Red that I had seen perform her recital through the eyes of my narrator. It was marvelous! I felt like I had already seen the recital and so was able to imagine I was listening and enjoying the musical and literary journey rather than sitting on stage performing.

Obviously no live performance is perfect, but I felt that by writing this, I was able to play my repertoire more confidently and thus communicate their themes more effectively.

So, my dear musical readers, here is my recital in literary form:

Oh! I should tell you my program as well so this makes more sense:

  1. Piano Sonata No. 17, Op. 31 No. 2  I. Largo-Allegro by Ludwig van Beethoven  (1770-1827)
  2. Miroirs  II. “Oiseaux Tristes” (“Sad Birds”) by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

  3. Années de pèlerinage II, S. 161 No. 7 Après une Lecture du Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata by Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

So a piece about the storms of life, lonely birds, and Dante’s Inferno. Fun, right?

The Girl in the Red Dress

We came by invitation, to see a girl we know. She’s quite a character…lanky, blonde, eyes that are intense one minute and twinkling with laughter the next, always writing or dreaming of writing, usually stepping in a limping time to a tune nobody else can hear. But she’s anxious. She overworks herself and doubts her work. She is likely trembling backstage now, her hands nearly purple with cold from the frigid hall and her nervous heart. Likely she is pacing and wringing these hands, trying to calm herself and warm them.

I send a quick prayer up past the cracked ceiling of the hall for her. Lord, calm her nerves and let her play with the excellence and emotion with which she has practiced daily.

As I whisper “Amen,” my hands join the chorus of clapping. She has stepped onstage.

But this is someone different. Still her…and yet not. She’s taller. Her arms are stronger. Her lips match her blazing red dress and yet the blue of her eyes flash and burn the brightest. The click of her heels echo through the hall, a measured drumroll for her own performance.

But she looks upward when she looks outward, as if her audience is not below but somewhere beyond the ceiling’s crevices, in the region my prayer just ascended.

A bow.

She sits.

Silence.

The audience scuffles, trying to hush the murmur of their program notes. Program notes…about books, of course. I glance down at them but it’s too dark to read now. To the glow of the stage I return.

The ghost of notes begin; substantial yet ethereal. How? I hardly dare to breathe, unsure whether I really heard them and yet they are resounding gently through the hall. It’s a mist of sound. And then the mist is broken by the steady gallop of a frightened yet determined human tread.

But the mist is back.

And now the running. It’s an uphill run- not fast but intense and ever moving.

And suddenly it’s a battle cry interchanged with a plea. And now a whirlwind. All melting seamlessly into each other.

But the mist comes again, for the adventurer has reached a peak in the mountain range. It is cold, yet clear, colors of sunlight radiating softly through the curtains of mountaintop clouds. Peace descends like a gentle rain, drawing us upward.

Then the battle rages once more, startling and yet not surprising…Did not we feel in our souls the same ever-present struggle of this piece? Beethoven was too knowledgeable. He knew himself- that is, he knew all of us – too well.

Another moment of peace…yet not peace. It’s a cry. The sound of an oboe as the sound of our very hearts. It is a recitative and it is reflective, but it is not weak.

And then a piercing urgency and pain returns, then whirling and, before I knew it, the piece concludes; urgent and yet not rushed. It is reminiscent of intentionally restraining the racing heart. Controlling our steps if we cannot quite control our fears.

Silence falls. I can see the moth-like breath of the girl in red; it flutters, shaky, but soft.

The scene changes. It’s still a mountain’s peak… Grey swirling mist abounds, but the girl in red leads us above it. We are alone. I am alone. She is alone. Everyone is isolated and alone. No man is an island? False. All men are mountaintops calling in vain to each other, wandering birds forever losing their nests.

It is beautiful but sorrowful. Something tugs in my heart at the harmonies, so blended and subdued but for a sudden flurry of frantic wings. And then faded again, as if the great shroud of mist has descended over us all, sealing out loneliness and separating us from the enduring and interconnected nature in which we have no part apart from our lost nests.

This silence is lighter and heavier at the same time. Something is coming. Something terrifying.

And then it does, in a trumpet blast. It is evil. Or no…not evil…something more terrifying than the evil that has become familiar. It is the best good. It is the Good. And I cannot stand to it and thus cannot but think it evil. The mountaintop that seemed a hermitage is opening up as a gaping prison beneath me and I stumble into it with a crying utterance too deep for words.

Is she bringing us into this inferno? Is she the girl I know or some spirit sent to administer justice of the most fearful kind?

The lament continues, more rhythmic than melodic and each note is a beat of my own heart, which is pounding at the walls of my chest in an effort to escape, but my ribs constrain it and it holds its time.

A reaching for higher aid falls back into lament. We have all killed an Albatross in our lives and this is our recompense.

Drum-rolls and rising tides. Shivers of terror more substantial than chains run down my spine and suddenly it is the distant beating of drums as they approach a funeral pyre…my funeral pyre.

But something is changing… the tonality is richer. Something of gold is in the flames of judgement and real gold fears no fire…but who put it there? Can it – this gold – be enough to pay my ransom?

And then in a burst of light made of every color, my soul is bathed in the burning purity of F-sharp major. It peels back my mask of sin and I realize this mask hid not my face but hid me from seeing the face of One too Great for My Sight.

But I can hear Him. Though I may not yet look, I might hear and feel and sense that the Almighty has won a victory. The victory. And I might dare to hope that He shall make me a soldier to share in this victory.

I take to arms within the deepest part of my being and when the trumpets of fearsome judgement sound again, there is something of my own determination in them.

And this determination brings the strength which is grace.

It is beautiful. I am swept into a lulling dance which turns to the song of Him singing over me. The powers of darkness might whirl around, but this song holds me fast, anchoring me.

It gives way to a beautiful dancing flurry which concludes with a declaration of coming victory, if only the judgement first comes.

Drums again. I feel the darkness creeping forth from its pit. It will not be contained, it says. It inches its way toward the hearts of men.

But that Great and Only Goodness is not touched. It’s dignity and perfection reign and the throne is not overthrown by these creeping, oozing things. It’s perfect order and rhythm and timing subdue them with a fear greater than any they could evoke.

And the song sings again, restoring my strength to finish this battle.

And I see it. I see this Light. Distant, but it is coming for me. I tremble yet rush to meet it.

Oh, glorious victory! Surely it is won!

But are those the trumpets of perdition I hear once more? Oh! the dwellers of the pit sneak forth again in chromatic slyness. They dance, the demons do, dance with a syncopation that is too easy to fall into. They crescendo in their final push.

But their frantic, Bacchic celebration of their own undoing is overthrown by the grace and gentleness of a waltz, which crescendos along with them into their end and its everlasting beginning.

The drums return, but no longer accompanying lament. Rather, it is a drumroll toward triumph. And the horns declaring this triumph continue longer than expected, but, after all, are they not to resound throughout all eternity?

Yes, Lord.

Amen, Lord.

I am shaken. Something has been purged from my soul. I barely register my hands applauding. How does one applaud the victory of the Lord?

But then I remember. This is a piano recital. An ordinary girl in a red dress is performing. This is a piano solo, not a divine judgement. But perhaps they are intertwined after all. Perhaps, even more than the Steinway grand, she herself was an instrument of the true Master.

Flowers and bows and the girl in red smiling as if she has won a victory herself, yet blushing and laughing with an innocent, overwhelmed delight at the same time.

She exits.

And returns.

More bows. More golden laughter, trilling softly beneath the thunderous applause of her loved ones below.

She winks at a friend, signaling him to stop clapping and waits for others to follow before she invites us to tea and scones.

Tea and scones? After this moral turbulence?

I glance at my watch. It’s only been thirty minutes.

Alright, then. Tea time it is.

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Also in the interest of combining arts, I used this stunning painting “Le Femme en Rouge” by Impressionist artist Giovanni Boldini for my recital posters. People kept asking how I got someone to paint me…

Three o’Clock in the Morning

Three in the morning,

an hour of woe,

Breathes heartache and mourning

and deepest sorrow.

Its minutes are counted

with seconds and sighs

As in blanket-mound bed

fears dance ‘fore sore eyes.

The moments just lumber-

a funeral dirge-

While we, seeking slumber,

turn, toss on its verge.

The stillness is silence

as cold as a tomb

Yet burns so intense

it crowds th’empty room.

No pillow can soften,

nor lullaby light,

The three o’clock coffin

of a restless night.

 

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.

The Same Sun

“There is nothing quite like the moment when an idea strikes and you can whip out your notebook and favorite pen and scrawl away for an hour. I’ve been going nonstop for weeks now and was overjoyed to have time to write something other than my 30 page political manifesto. (*cries from post-paper-writing trauma*) Anyway, this little story ties together some concepts from my philosophical readings and my own random questions with what I like to imagine is a Ray Bradbury-esque twist. Let me know what you think!

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The Same Sun

The view was spectacular.  Almost enough to make one believe it had been painted, sculpted by some great cosmic artist rather than produced by blind nature with no talent but plenty of time.

Almost.

So Atlas thought to himself as he sat among the spectators, his fellow elite of the Earth. Those elite who, seven years ago, had fled to Mars to escape after some unknown thing had taken a large portion of the population. It might have been a disease. Or a secret enemy. Nobody stuck around to investigate.  All anyone remembered is that where one moment a man stood, the next he was gone. It had seemed so random; one janitor vanished, leaving a broom to fall unattended, while another continued mopping; one mother and child disappeared without a trace while another was left to rock her startled toddler; one surgeon asked for a scalpel and another turned to hand it to him only to find empty air.

Terrifying.

The wealthy did not care to investigate, seeing no explanations in accordance with their unbending logic. But even their logic was subject to fear, so they fled as far as they could from earth, desperate to avoid catching (or perhaps, being caught by) what became known as “the sudden death.” Of course, nobody knew for certain that the victims died, but what else happened when one disappeared?

That was seven years ago now.  Atlas and his partner, Eden, had fled along with the rest of their social class. With the vanishing of thousands followed so soon by the abandonment by the upper class, the oligarchies of earth fell into madness. Now,  Atlas sat in a stadium with hundreds of others, staring through telescopic glasses out across the solar system at a single bluish orb floating like a lonely teardrop in a dark sea. Earth.

“Beautiful view, isn’t it,” Eden said, sauntering up behind him and laying a red-lacquered hand on his arm. Her other hand clutched a wine glass. It was so full that only its magnetic rim kept its iron-laced contents from spilling over and onto her blouse.

“Yeah,” Atlas shrugged. “It’s something else.”

The solar system spread itself before him, a mobile of multicolored planets. He himself perched on the red one: Mars. The Martian Colonies had been experimental for decades. Now, though, with such a rapid influx of investments from the wealthy in their eagerness to escape the sudden death, it became not only livable but luxurious. Seemingly overnight, the industrial Martian Colonies transformed into what some called “New Vegas” and others- poetic from the combined effects of the change in gravity and the influence of Martian wine- called “Paradise.”

From where he sat in the bleachers,  Atlas scanned the planets and moons before him, shining gemstones set against the dark velvet of space. His eyes settled on the sapphire and topaz earth. He turned the dial on his glasses and zoomed in for a closer view of his native planet.

From afar, it was still beautiful. Almost enough to make him homesick for the greens of trees and of the sea near his home.  Almost. When he got a closer look, the feeling faded. Brown, dusty, and swarming with ants who were really men. Rough with the pockmarks of mines and the sharp scars of city skylines. Turning around and peering over the rim of his glasses, Atlas feasted his eyes – thirsty and sore from the sight of decrepit earth – on the artificial Martian oasis behind him. Without having to crane his head, he could see the lights of cabarets, smell the aroma of wine and food, and hear the ever-blasting bass of the Night-and-Day clubs.

Yes, this was better.

“Quake number 333 has struck earth,” announced a bored voice over the broadcasters. “Anytime now, the pious-” he pronounced this word with an audible sneer “- of earth expect it to happen.”

It…

Atlas’ mind flashed through months of news reports.

It.

The gathering of the pious.

The judgement of the wicked.

The end of the world…

Well…the end of earth at least.

An involuntary shudder ran through Atlas. He felt Eden’s nails tense around his bicep. He had forgotten she was there.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Nothing.”

“Exactly,” she said, quirking what might have been a witty smile had she not already downed two glasses of wine. “Nothing.”

“What?” Atlas turned to her.

“Nothing. That’s what is going to happen. These people…the ‘faithful,’ the weak…they’ve been waiting and praying, counting signs and whispering that this thing they call ‘the Day’ is coming. But for what? Nothing. They’re hoping for paradise to come for them. Well, paradise is here!”


She threw out her arms as if to display to Atlas the splendors of Mars, her wine sloshing but stopping at the rim. She beamed, obviously proud of her quippy conclusion. She watched Atlas for a reaction, but, receiving none, lowered her arms and resumed her easy manner. She licked her lips as if savoring her own superiority along with the wine. Her sly mannerisms, usually so attractive, sent another shudder down Atlas’ spine.

“Then why are we watching?” he asked softly.

“What?”

“If nothing is going to happen, why are we here, on Mars, watching like a crowd at a football match, to see what happens? Why pay and wait to watch nothing?”

“Well…” Eden bit her lip. Her confusion was over in an instant, though, and she was all smiles once more. “It will be fun to watch them run about in confusion with nothing happens. Like ants when their hill collapses. Too bad we don’t have a magnifying glass big enough to make them sizzle just a little.”

She laughed at herself.

Atlas stared at her, his eyes wide behind his glasses. She always became a bit morbid at night but this…he shook himself. He was being silly. He was being illogical. Nature was all he saw, not a beautiful design. And nothing was all that would happen, not some wondrous conclusion to the story of earth.

That was all.

And yet…

“Reports of thunder are arising from every continent on Earth despite unusually clear skies,” drawled the voice of the broadcaster, sounding only slightly more interested in this new development.

The crowd barely paid any attention, but Atlas scanned Earth’s atmosphere. No signs of storms. Not even clouds over South America. And yet, the radio had said thunder?
“Suppose,” he faced Eden. His voice had come out too sharply. He cleared his throat and tried again. “Suppose something does happen. Suppose it happens.”

“Does it matter?” sighed Eden.

“Pretend it does.”

“Well,” she said, speaking as if to a child who had pestered her with too many questions already, “if something does happen, all the better for us! We have the best seats on Mars and are safe from anything on Earth.”

“Judgement.”

“Huh?”

“That’s what they – the weak- claim is coming. Judgement.”

“So what? We are here. Judge the Earth? By all means! Makes a better show for us on Mars. I swear,  Atlas, you’ve been in an odd mood all night. Want a sip?” She held out her nearly-empty cup.

“The cup of wrath shall be poured out,” Atlas murmured. He had heard someone say that once on Earth. He had laughed aloud at the time, but now something clenched inside his chest as he remembered the phrase.

“What? I swear…” Eden said again. “You are being awfully serious tonight. And not fun at all.”

She tossed aside the cup and folded her arms over her chest, pouting.  Atlas ignored her. Something else caught his eye. Clouds were gathering in the sky over Earth in one large mass. A hurricane? No, it could not be. It was too mountainous.

In his odd, fanciful mood,  Atlas thought briefly that the clouds looked exactly like a chariot, horses and all. He stared at them in wonder for a moment before, without warning, the sun burst from within them.

But…

The sun was not on Earth. And yet…

A deafening sound reverberated through the air, so strong that he only knew Eden had gasped by her open mouth. He gripped the armrests of his chair and focused his glasses in on the scene before him, aghast.

The trumpets blasted again, shaking him to the depths of his soul. That is, to the depths of his body. He knew rationally that men were animals with no souls. But he did not have time to reflect upon this before another sound crescendoed with the trumpets, surrounding him- and Mars- as well as Earth, from all sides.

He was trembling and, though his vision was unsteady and spotted by the afterimage of that glorious, inexplicable sun, he saw that Eden was shaking beside him. In fact,  Mars itself was shaking. They had watched dozens of Earthquakes from their safe, removed Paradise, through the lenses of telescopic glasses. But never, in the seven years since they had emigrated from Earth to Mars, had they felt their new planet – their world – quake beneath them.

The light of what could not possibly be the sun but could not be called otherwise became blinding. Atlas found that shutting his eyes did nothing against its radiance. He turned away. Behind him, he saw the lights of the cabaret flicker and go out. He watched as food carts, as if in slow motion, toppled and spilled their wares. He watched men stumble about, shocked at the magnificent and horrifying scene they had not expected to watch, let alone perform in. He saw women in ridiculous heels crumple to the ground, their men either letting them fall without noticing or going down with them and remaining on their knees, unable to rise.

Spiderweb cracks thickened and multiplied across the gold-stoned street, spreading up over even the red stones of its buildings. The very sky seemed to crack as veins of that terrifying, wondrous light cut through the atmosphere of Mars like a sword, turning its rust-colored air blood red.

Atlas turned his face back toward Earth, but found the Sun instead. Its brilliance sent pain shooting through his skull. The thundering grew louder. It felt as if it were coming from within his own head. And then the thunder turned to the stampeding of horses. It had been horses all along, he realized, his logic forsaken. What use was logic now? His soul laughed bitterly at him, for he now knew without a doubt that he had a soul.

Another tremor shook the ground, yanking the chair out from under him and tossing him to his knees. He stayed down, no longer daring to stare into that all-consuming, burning, living light. He was a child who had tried too many times to look at the sun and he had finally learned.

Another trumpet blast sent his heart simultaneously up into his throat and down into his stomach. Ecstasy and agony fought in his chest and ended in a despair that could not even find relief in lament.

His mouth fell open and he felt sure he would be sick. But only a word fell out.

“Holy.”

The light flashed. He dared not move. Another trumpet blast sounded. The thundering hooves of horses were upon him. He felt, rather than saw, Eden fall beside him and had just enough time to think that it was almost funny: Paradise crumbling behind him and Eden collapsing beside him. 

Almost.

He could not laugh, though. He could only think over and over that they had been wrong. It had happened.

The Day had dawned.

Mars was no escape.

It was a different planet, but they shared a Sun.

The Day dawned for both Mars and Earth.

Awe and horror filled him, every corner of his body and soul felt ready to explode with the sensation, yet instead poured out in another despairing gasp of “Holy.”

And then, the Day burst forth as the Son rose completely. It had happened and all that remained were fear and trembling: trembling souls on a trembling planet, in the midst of a light they were unable to bear.

“Holy.”

Reflections on Writing a Novel Draft

During my journey home from Italy, I was super bored and, thus, my brain went crazy and came up with a novel idea that I am ridiculously excited about. Thankfully, I hit 50,000 words on my other novel draft, so I was able to set that one aside without too much guilt to begin this next project. While I am writing like mad to make sure I don’t forget my initial ideas, I have been trying to write more mindfully as well, meaning that I am writing with intentionality and observation. Basically, I am noting the quirks and tendencies I have as a writer, along with the surprises and mistakes.

For instance…

I have a knack for writing characters like me. This sounds like a bad thing, but it is not! Yes, I have written characters who resemble me in their appearance, fashion taste, sense of humor, hobbies, etc. and I need to steer clear of doing this too often or risk becoming predictable as an author. However, I have found that I also write characters who teach me about myself. For example, a cynical and morbid actor may not sound like me, but this particular character revealed to me some darker aspects of my own mind. (Don’t be scared; he’s not a bad guy.) Characters who I have tried to make unlike me have ended up like me in ways I did not intend, displaying through their traits and stories parts of myself that I did not even realize existed: apathy, romance, ambition, etc. all revealed themselves to me in my characters.

Continuing on, I have discovered that my life bleeds over into my fictional writing. I cannot control it. A barista from a coffee shop, a quirky house, a childhood friend, an overheard sentence, have all ended up in various stories of mine. I’m sorry if you read of a character that resembles you closely someday; I can’t really help it. I’ve found that I “collect” real-life characters and place them in fictional stories. As Sherlock Holmes once said, “life is infinitely stranger than anything the mind of man could invent.” I believe using aspects and people from the real world creates greater detail and intrigue in the fictional realm. 

The advice given by numerous authors to “write the book you want to read” is 150% valid. (please don’t attribute that quote to a single author; I’m pretty sure literally every successful writer has said something along those lines.) You know why assigned essays are not usually fun? Because 9 times out of 10, nobody wants to read your five paragraph essay on your three favorite foods. Actually, make that 10 times out of 10. Nobody cares. BUT, if you think of an idea that you wish to read about, why not write it yourself? When I find a book that fascinates me, I can’t stop reading. When I’ve thought of a story idea that fascinates me, the same principle is in place: I can’t stop writing. 

Despite being the author, I don’t know where every part of the story will go and I am as surprised by its twists and turns as I hope readers will be one day. It’s frustrating when plot points won’t connect or the timeline does not line up or characters decide to be fundamentally unlikeable. However, all of the struggles are forgotten the moment a character develops naturally or a plot twist generates itself or even when a particularly good bit of imagery paints itself. Writing is a constant adventure.

That about wraps up my reflections for now…oh wait! I have a couple more little tidbits that I have discovered over the past few days of writing:

  1. Writing time is like Narnia time in reverse; one minute of writing might actually be three hours of regular time. This can get out of hand very quickly.
  2. I feel guilty but a little bit cool every time I write a swear word, even if it is an edgy character saying it and not me. We’ll see if I let those stay in later drafts
  3. I have a morbid mind. Don’t ask. If this book makes it through publishing, you’ll see what I mean.
  4. It is possible to have a crush on your own character. The problem is if that character is based off a real person. (Not this time, though.)
  5. Netflix and writing go surprisingly well together. I managed to re-watch a season of Parks and Recreation and write 10,000 words in the same day. (Blame jet-lag for my laziness…)
  6. I get so enthusiastic about my ideas that I fear it borders on annoying. Sorry, everyone I’ve talked to in the past three days. If this ever gets published, you can have a free copy to read or burn depending on how obnoxious you found me.
  7. Coffee is writer fuel. One shot of espresso generates roughly 2,000 words. I’m open to donations of coffee money. The more coffee, the sooner this draft is finished.
  8. I write because I have to. I mean, I have no idea if anyone actually reads my blog posts regularly but I cannot help writing them. Words just build up inside my brain and if I don’t string them together into written sentences, I go crazy.

That’s all for now! If you read all the way to the end of this, do me a favor and like or comment or send me an appreciative message via carrier pigeon since I’d like to get an estimate as to how many people/who actually read(s) to the end of my articles. (See extra realization number 8) Thanks!

Okay bye for reals! Back to frantically typing my draft!