A Disaster Beyond His Imagination
The pen scratched along the paper, the slight sounds skittering out into the silence around him. Another chord. No, that one is not right. This one? Yes, that one. Play it again. Is it not so utterly lovely? It was. He knew it was lovely. He voiced it properly, root in the base, echoed an octave above in the tenor, third and fifth in the split alto voices and finally, soaring above it all, a lovely soprano landing lightly on a high G.
It would be perfect in her voice. Everything he wrote was perfect in her voice. It was the one part of her he knew intimately, the one part he could feel within his own mind, reach out with his music to caress and hold and support.
It wasn't enough. Yet it had to be.
He sighed, lifting the pen once more. The aria was not over, the high note simply its climax. He had to allow her to come back down to earth, bring her angel's voice back into the realm of humanity. You hate humanity. But she is part of it, is she not? Yes.
His hand came down on yet another chord, then lifted. Again, the wrong chord. Perhaps it might have been right for another composer, a lesser composer, one not quite so versed in the art as he, one with less genius than he. You are arrogant.
He scoffed, brought his hand down hard on the piano, the notes discordant. That was not lovely.
An eyebrow raised, he brought his hand down to the keyboard yet again and let it hover, the fingers moving lightly above the keys, trying to find their proper home. He started to bring them down. No...not there. He lifted them, moved the fingers, spread them apart for a different chord, a different voicing. No.
He stood suddenly, his right hand still hovering over the keyboard, pen still held loosely in his left, poised to write those final notes that should have come so easily to him. The notes that always came so easily to him.
His genius had always manifested itself much in the same way he understood Mozart's had nearly a century ago. It simply came to him, awakening him in the middle of the night with a stranglehold on his mind, insisting he do its bidding. Sometimes it came during the day, creeping up on him, until he could no longer ignore its insistent call. He once tried to pay no heed to it and the music began to pound in his head, beating at the sides of his skull, begging to be freed from its strange captivity. He had never ignored it since.
But now? Now it simply seemed to be...gone?
He set the pen down, brought his right hand back to his side, and strode across the room, settling himself on the couch. He sat sideways, drew his knees up close to his chest and wrapped his arms around his legs. Tucked close into himself, he ducked his head down, shut his eyes, and simply tried to imagine.
He was at the first performance. Christine upon the stage, resplendent in a deep burgundy gown, golden hair loose and flowing around her shoulders and down her back. The quintet had begun. The earnest young suitor sang his sweet words of love, the words Erik could never sing to Christine himself, and stretched out his hand to her. The sisters, those two husky alto voices, tittered near Christine, fluttering near her as they giggled and sighed and spun around each other rejoicing in the beauty of love. The father, the deep bass, frowned at the silliness but then smiled behind his hand, ever the indulgent parent.
And then Christine, her angel's voice floating above them all, taking command of the stage, drawing everyone's attention to her. She flitted through the group, indulging her sisters' silliness, placating her father, and then finally ending in front of her suitor.
The duet began then, the lines by the sisters and father falling into the background as all eyes turned to the beautiful young couple on the stage. Erik sighed as they sang to each other, imagining his own voice, his own countenance, such as it was, in the place of the young tenor. They sang of their love, their devotion, their plans for the future, their passion for each other. He could feel himself blush at the latter, but let it all continue around him. It wasn't reality. A part of him still knew that.
The voices interweaved with each other, plunging and rising together until finally, the climax. Christine's voice ascended high above them all, coming to rest clear as a bell on that high G. He reached out a hand, rejoiced when he felt Christine's small, delicate hand become entwined with his long fingers.
He waited in eager anticipation for what would happen next...
The conductor cut off the orchestra and singers, and then brought his arms down for the next section. Christine opened her mouth to sing. The tenor took a step forward, Erik's mind moving with him.
The orchestra looked blankly at the conductor, who held his hands up in a gesture of utter helplessness. His eyes met Erik's, who still was on stage in the role of the tenor. The orchestra turned, almost as one, to stare at him. He stared back, eyes widening. The altos turned to look at him. The bass turned to look at him. The tenor whose role he had usurped was back in his spot on stage and Erik was suddenly center stage. All eyes were on him. The conductor, the orchestra, the singers, the audience. The backstage people were suddenly in the wings, all looking to him.
And then Christine. Her eyes met his as she turned to face him, her quizzical look turning horrified and angry. "Where is my music, Erik?" So much anger. It tore through him, a sort of physical hurt he had not expected. He gasped.
"Where is our music, Erik?" the conductor echoed.
And soon the rest picked up the chant. Give us our music! We need our music!
They closed in on him then, the members of the orchestra pit tossing instruments carelessly aside to rush the stage, the audience following them, trampling each other and the instruments in their haste to reach him.
"No!" he shouted, trying to push through the crush surrounding him, trying to protect Christine, trying to get to the instruments to save them before the crowd had destroyed them all, trying desperately to save himself.
The scene dissolved around him and Erik lifted his head from where it still rested on his knees. He was in his house by the lake, still deep in the cellars of the Paris Opera House. He glanced briefly at his piano. There, sitting on the piano, was the score to his opera, the ink slowly drying on the page, the staves tormenting him with their emptiness.
He drew in a deep breath, let it out in one quick expulsion. He needed to escape, to rush away from those empty staves, the piano, the walls that seemed to be much closer now than ever before.
Pulling on his cloak and fedora, he left by way of the third cellar, briefly noting his unintentional use of the torture chamber. He was locked in a torture all his own, a torture he had never experienced once in his entire life, something he had heard in passing but never really understood.
He fled upward into the upper cellars of the opera, flitting through hidden passages and taking note of the time. It was late, long after the opera would be over, long after most would have left.
But not Christine.
He found her in her room, dressing gown wrapped tightly around herself, an oil lamp set upon her desk. She was writing frantically on a piece of paper. Was it her diary? A note? A note to that nobleman who had been sniffing around her dressing room lately?
A jealous stab went through Erik as he watched. Christine's head suddenly shot up. Had he made some sort of noise that gave his presence away or was she really so tuned into him that she could sense his presence.
"Angel?" Her voice was tentative as she looked up from her writing.
"I am here, child." The words were out before he thought about them. He didn't intend to speak. He just wanted to see her, to view her loveliness for a moment before descending back to his home to figure out what might be done about this "writer's block" thing.
"This is not the usual day for our lesson."
"I know, my child." His mind frantically looked for an excuse, a reason for being here. All that kept coming into it was My music is gone!!
"Have I displeased you in some way?" Her brow crinkled as she stood and walked closer to the mirror. Erik reached out a hand and touched his side of the mirror, ever wishing he could be closer to her, ever wishing he could just throw the mirror open and step into her arms.
Of course she would look for a reason for his sudden appearance. "No, of course not." The words came out quickly, almost angrily. You could never displease me. "You are progressing so well, I felt you were ready to advance."
Her lips formed a silent "o" before breaking into a blushing smile. "You are too kind, Angel." He saw her take a couple deep breaths, one hand to her chest, her eyes closing briefly. "I am ready, my Angel. Please begin."
The lesson went well, Erik thought. He hadn't meant to push her quite so far, but she had been up for the challenge, her voice rising to meet every new place his led her.
The hardest part about it had been leaving her, turning from her exultation, her flushed cheeks, watching her shoulders fall and her body crumple back upon itself as he withdrew his voice from her ears and his presence from the room.
He had turned quickly and strode away before he could be tempted to stay, to talk to her, to draw her into his world. It was not to be done. Not ever.
And yet he knew it was only a matter of time. There was only so long his mind and body could resist her allure, only so long he could resist her pleas to see him. She knows not what she asks.
Now he was back, ensconced in his house deep in the bowels of the opera house, back at his piano, pen at the ready. The lesson had been inspiring. Even now, Christine's voice still echoed in his ears. He skimmed through what he had already written, her voice even stronger now, changing the sweet words of love to ones of even stronger passion.
And then silence.
The same spot. The same problem. Each chord his mind tried, each different way he shaped his hands above the keyboard, each melodic fragment he began...none felt right.
And they must feel right.
He stood slowly and flung off his hat. It flew hard into the wall, flattening for a moment before falling unceremoniously to the floor. It mattered not. It was just a thing. His prized fedora, yes. But still just a thing.
Not the music. The music was gone. His mind railed against the possibility.
Was this all that was left to him now? After all this time, all these years, nearly 50 now, of having the music flow through him like he was an electrical conduit to its power, was it going to just...go away? He never imagined it could be like that, like he had just run out and there was nothing left to pour from the pitcher.
At least he still had Christine. For now...
Carefully, he brought the top down, noiselessly closing it over the ivory keys. He reached up to pick up the bundle of papers sitting atop the instrument, caressed their silken pages, and then carefully laid them face down on the instrument.
This was a death of sorts, wasn't it? He could almost see the candle flickering and dying inside his mind. The flame that he had fanned for so long had died. He hadn't neglected it, hadn't allowed it to burn down on someone else's watch. It had just naturally, of its own volition, ceased to be.
With great care, he retrieved his favourite fedora, checked it over for damage, and satisfied that all was well, placed it back upon his head. He pulled his cloak back on and left.
He didn't know where he was going. He just knew he couldn't face his instruments anymore this evening. They sat mute, mocking them in their silence. He couldn't bare it, seeing those beautiful instruments sitting so deathly silent, buried in his tomb of a house.
He left by way of the Rue Scribe. He hadn't planned on leaving the opera house this evening and though it was dark, the streets mostly devoid of people, he was woefully unprepared to pass by others of the human race. Pulling his hat low over his face, pulling his cloak tight around himself, trying to look as inconspicuous as possible, Erik hailed a passing cab and commanded the driver to drive him somewhere...anywhere...just somewhere away from the opera house.
The man did as he bade, no doubt assuming he had had a tryst that went sour and needed to escape as quickly as possible. When the man finally stopped and let Erik out, he was far across town, somewhere on the Left Bank. The area he stepped off into was quiet, a small park of some sort. It was secluded, walled off by trees on either side and not a soul, save himself, was around. It was, ultimately, perfect.
He tipped the driver, probably more than he should have, and sent him on his way. He would make his own way back across the river when he was ready to go. For now he needed nothing more than quiet, solitude, and fresh air.
There was a small bench further into the park and it was to there he headed, sitting lightly upon it. He felt odd, there in that little park, knowing that he would be a pariah and chased out had the sun rose upon him at that moment. It made him somewhat uncomfortable, even in the cover of darkness, to be in a place commonly visited by others.
He leaned back, resting his head on the back of the bench and stared upward into the sky. It was dark where he was, the lights of the city far off in the distance. It was a spectacular night, the stars out in full force. This far away from other light sources, he could even faintly make out the misty line of the Milky Way. And there was Cetus, the sea monster sent out on missions of complete destruction, turned to stone by Medusa's severed head in the end. He smiled in sympathy with the monster. He had been that monster too. It seemed he was in the process of being turned to stone for what was life without his music, without creativity, without love?
Turning his head, he spied more constellations. There were Canis Major and Canis Minor, Orion's faithful dogs. There was Hydra, yet another monster. The sky was full of monsters and a monster looked up at them.
It seemed somehow fitting.
He was truly monstrous now, not even imbued with the gift of music. Fleetingly, he wondered if his other gifts had left too. He was a master of architecture and ventriloquism, among other things. Music, however, was the talent he held most dear, the one he considered the most human.
He somehow doubted his talent for death had deserted him. A slight laugh broke out of him. It was truly absurd. The monster who would be human becoming a true monster, a beacon of death and nothing more. No redeeming qualities left. No more Angel of Music.
You tutored her still. That was true. He leaned further back, shutting his eyes against the myriad of constellations frowning down upon him. He had lost his music before he found himself at Christine's dressing room. You haven't lost all your music. Perhaps he wasn't stone just yet.
She had brought back a part of it, but how long until even that small spark was snuffed out? How long until Christine could no longer hear her Angel of Music and instead heard the monster behind her dressing room? How long until she turned from him in horror as the spell he had woven about them dissipated?
He hoped he could retain that one little spark.
He was afraid, mortally afraid, that he would not be able to and that his dream was about to come to an end.
Leaning forward, he put his head in his hands and willed the music to come to him. Time and again he heard the music come to that climax. Silence. He started it over in his mind, heard the beautiful music, then nothing. Once more back to the beginning. This time the music changed, became harsher, almost like he had rehearsed it one too many times and the singers' voices were getting tired. The climax, and then silence once more.
He put himself through the paces over and over again, a sort of exquisite torture, hearing his music within his head in such a way. Each time the voices become more and more discordant, shouts intermingling with the music, a riot in the audience while his singers, their voices more tired than they had ever been before, continued valiantly on to that climatic moment he couldn't find a way beyond.
One more time...back to the beginning. You are tormenting yourself. Yes. Don't you think I know that? The words within his mind were forced out of him, clipped and harsh.
The music began anew, harsher yet, forced, drained. He closed his eyes against the pain, feeling the corners become inexplicably wet. One more time through the quintet, one more time through the love duet, then the lovely high G, the beautiful climax to the duet, followed by...
The silence melted away in the sweet sound of a violin. Just a single violin, floating just slightly below Christine's voice, intermingling with it, balancing the sweet sound of her voice with a husky sweetness all it own.
It took Erik some moments before he realized the violin he heard was not in his head. He pulled his hands away from his face, brought his head back up and tilted it to the side. Yes...there was something there, somewhere in the distance, a lone violin playing a melody of incredible loneliness and despair. It was a melody he had never heard before, he realized, but the emotions imbued into it by that one violin player were enough to force him to rise to his feet and follow the sound.
Deeper into the park he went, keeping close to the trees and safely in the dark. The moon was not out that night, but the stars left enough light that one might be able to see him. He was dressed almost all in black: black cloak, black fedora, black mask. The white of his shirt front would draw eyes to him, but the rest would simply be a blacker shadow on a black background. Ah night, how sweet you are in your ability to hide all. Wrapping his cloak right around himself would solve the problem of his being seen in the darkness.
He ducked behind one tree as he came closer to the violinist. He could now hear the nuances of the sound. The dark, husky tone, the drone underneath the melody that enabled the violinist to play almost a counterpoint to the melody, the way the musician bent notes as he slid into and out of them. Lost in the music, his soul thrilling to the sounds unlike any he had heard before, he almost didn't notice when the musician finished and, sighing, brought the instrument down to his side before turning to walk away.
"Wait." The word was out before he could stop it. The musician turned back toward him, eyes scanning the shadows. Erik could see his brow crease as his eyes flitted to and fro. "What was that?"
"Port Na Bpucai."
The words, clearly not in Erik's native tongue, made little sense to him. "Pardon me?"
"Port Na Bpucai. It means 'Music of the Fairies.' I can't see you back there, sir..."
"That is my intention. You are Irish?" He had recognized that peculiar lilt to the young man's voice. Ireland was one of the few countries he had not made it to in his wanderings throughout the years. It seemed he had missed much.
"Aye. That I am, sir. Recently over from Kerry. I often come to these parts to play my fiddle when no one is around. The loneliness of the park in the middle of the night echoes that of my soul."
"The tune. It is Irish?" The music was all important here. The man's loneliness he understood all too well, but a moment's conversation with a hidden stranger would not make this man feel more welcome in the harsh city. Loneliness was pervasive, a part of you. Erik was no man's friend and this time was not to be any different.
"Aye. Of course..."
"Tell me about it." He watched the young man take a slight step back at the harshness of his voice, saw the shoulders tense, the arms drawing his instrument in tight to his chest. "I'm sorry. I'm not used to company..." The words faded away.
"Of course." The man smiled briefly and Erik sensed that he had a sort of kindred spirit in this young Irishman. "I'm told the tune originated on the Blasket Islands. They're off the southwest coast, not far from my native Kerry. As legend tells, three folks from the island were rowin' back after a hard day's work when they heard strange, eerie sounds coming from outside the hull of their boat. One of the boatmen picked up his fiddle – they all traveled with their instruments back in the day – and began to play the sounds he heard. The boatmen believed they were hearin' the fairies."
Erik scoffed. "Nonsense."
"Aye, that it might very well be. But 'tis a lovely tune." The man's voice brightened on the last words. It was clear he was proud of his homeland. No doubt his family had fallen on bad times and he had been forced to make his way here in a new country, far from hearth and home.
"Indeed it is. It is an inspiration, if I may go so far." Erik turned to go.
"Wait..." This time it was the young man's turn to speak, to call him back.
Erik paused, pulling something from within his cloak and tossing it out into the light. "For your trouble." And then he was gone. He could hear, from a bit of a distance away, the man's exclamation over the bag of coins he had found tossed at his feet. The young man would be able to afford passage back and be able to support his family for a good number of years.
Erik quickened his pace, moving out of the park and further into the city. An inspiration. The words kept floating around his mind as he walked faster and faster, nearly breaking out into a run down the cobblestone streets. He had to get back to his house, back to the piano, back to the manuscript he had left behind.
He had something in his mind, something far in the back of it, some little inkling that he was on to something. The violin is the key.
Down the streets he fled as if the demons of hell were on his heel. No. Not Demons. Never demons. Demons did not play music so lovely, so imbued with every lonely emotion his soul had ever felt. Perhaps the Angel of Music, the real Angel of Music, was on his heel, pushing him ever forward to his final goal.
He very nearly collided with a cab in his headlong flight. The horses reared up and the driver shouted a curse at the specter that had spooked his horses. Erik turned on his heel, grabbed the door of the cab in mid-flight, and flung himself into its dark interior. "Take me to the opera."
The driver sputtered for a moment, staring incredulously at the man inside his cab. Erik pulled out a handful of coins from within his cloak and tossed them to the man. "You may have those now. The rest you get if you get me to the opera post haste. Rue Scribe side." The man hesitated. "Now."
The man cracked the reins so hard, Erik was flung back into the cab quite suddenly and smiled, despite the rough ride. The man was doing exactly as he commanded. He could feel the horses' pounding hooves on the pavement below. Glancing out the window, he saw them cross over the Seine and take a turn to the opera. The man was good. He knew the quickest way there and proceeded to take it. He knew some drivers who preferred the long way around. It meant more money in their pocket.
When they arrived, Erik jumped out before the cab even came to a complete stop. He reached up with a bag of coins and dropped them at the driver's feet. It had been an expensive night. He was hoping it was worth it.
The light was just coming up over the horizon when he closed and locked the gate on his passage below. He felt a sort of strange need to stay away from the torture chamber this time and so made his way directly to the lake deep in the fifth cellar. His boat was where he left it and hopping in, he punted his way across the darkness to his hidden entrance.
Within moments he was safely ensconced in his house, the deep red of the carpet and the black of the piano a welcome sight. He moved quickly to the piano, divesting himself of the fedora, but not even bothering with the cloak. The music he had left atop the piano was quickly in his hand, flipped back over and placed in its proper location on the instrument.
He read through the music as he sat down, throwing the cloak out behind himself, lost in his thought and his music. There it all was again, the voices returned to their former beauty. Christine's effortless soprano, Erik's voice taking the tenor role once more, almost painful in its beauty.
And then the climax. He flinched, waiting for the harshness, waiting for the shouts and the jeers and the anger. There was a moment of silence deep within his mind. He held his breath and then slowly expelled it.
Christine's lovely high G, so full of graceful beauty, floated into the silence. And beneath it, coming up from the lower register, husky and sweet-voiced, was the sound of a lone violin. It rose to meet her voice, the orchestra silent beneath them, all waiting for the next moment with breathless anticipation.
The conductor brought his arms down and the orchestra entered on a chord so achingly beautiful Erik wept for its sheer loveliness.
He barely noticed the rest of the ensemble finishing off the piece. His left hand flew over the manuscript, writing so hastily he wasn't sure he could sort it out later. His right hand followed the melodies and chords, moving almost of its own volition.
His muse had not deserted him. The music had not deserted him. It was still there, still calling to him, still his.
He shook his head in wonder and looked at the completed manuscript, felt its weight in his hands. Closing his eyes, he saw the musicians, the stagehands, the dressers all look to him with smiles on their faces.
Christine moved closer to him, a beatific smile on her face. "I knew you wouldn't desert me." And he knew it wasn't Christine speaking to him. Well, not exactly Christine at least.
"It was you, my muse, who I was afraid had deserted me." He raised an eyebrow at her.
His muse, in the guise of Christine, smiled coquettishly. "I would never desert you, my dear composer. But sometimes, just once in awhile, you need to be reminded of your own humanity." And she disappeared then, taking the rest of the opera company with her and leaving Erik alone with his thoughts and the music that flowed through his veins.
A/N: This story was written for the Livejournal community masked_ball. The prompt was "Erik gets writer's block." Port Na Bpucai is an Irish air.