20 Oct Maestro
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Estimated reading time — 17 minutes
“On lonely street, on a dark lonely night…” She sang softly to herself as she walked, hands clasped behind her back clutching her purse. “A thousand glittering lights flicker bright…”
Sara was bored… this Halloween had been such a letdown. Her boyfriend hadn’t been available to go to any of the cooler parties being thrown, having been grounded by his parents for his Geometry grade, and her friends were all busy with their own things, too busy to go party with her. As much as a wild child as she was (according to her father, at the very least) she wasn’t as stupid as to go to some strangers home alone, especially when beer and hormones were in full use. So here she was, walking home beneath the flickering lights of the street lamps after having a horror movie marathon with her two younger cousins at their house, while their parents went out to a party.
How fair was that?
Her Uncle Mortimer had offered to give her a lift home, as it was well past two in the morning, but she’d declined. She saw past his caked on white make-up and vampire fangs and seen how his eyes were somewhat glassy, and how they were following his wife’s every move. She knew he wanted to have some more Halloween fun, and she had no intention of ruining anyone’s Halloween like hers had been ruined.
The lamp above her flickered briefly, a harsh buzzing noise filling the air as if some large fly were close by. Pausing to look up, she jumped a bit when she heard the sudden shatter of glass, and the tinkling noise that came with such shards falling to the ground. Looking behind her, she could see that the street light ten poles down had burst, a sudden blanket of darkness rushing over the area, swallowing the street in pure void.
She calmed herself, knowing that the light had probably just been old, or the wiring was bad. The holiday, combined with the late hour, was setting her nerves on edge. She was merely a block from her house, from her warm bed, and her small night light that she had to make her feel better about those dark and stormy nights.
And then another light burst, a sudden shower of glass only making itself known as the glass struck the hard concrete, swathed in velvet darkness. This light was the next one, just after the first. Her eyes widened in fear as she saw the briefest flicker of a wide red eye, set back in a pale face. Two slender hands, brighter than the moon on a cloudless night, seemed to hover in the darkness near the face, spidery fingers caressing the very air around him as he gazed at her.
And then the third light shattered, casting the stranger back into the unseen, the last thing being seen was the wicked gleam of his wide smile, of his sharpened teeth.
Sara screamed, dropping backward from the sudden fright, scrambling to her feet as another two lights exploded in rapid succession, the high-pitching buzzing seeming to grow more fervent as she broke into a sprint.
But she couldn’t seem to outrun the darkness, the ever expanding shadows that were speeding along, nipping at her heels, as the street lights continued to burst and fade. Every time she looked back, she could see at the edge of the encroaching ebon wave a twin set of eyes, blazing like the sun, and her own reflection in his silvery grin, like some demented Cheshire cat from a horrible nightmare.
Over her screams, she could hear just the faintest singing, almost as if a lover was whispering it into her ear. The voice was sickly, high and reedy, and most definitely male.
“On a lonely street…” It hissed in her ear, another light breaking overhead, plunging her into the very edges of the darkened wave, a long-fingered hand reaching out languidly towards her neck, even as she was sprinting. “On a dark lonely night…”
“No!” She screamed, squeezing her eyes together to not gaze at those unearthly fingers closing in on her. How was he keeping up with her, and speaking so steadily? She could barely breathe, much less sing, and here he was right on her ass like nothing was going on!
She stopped cold as she was lifted bodily from the ground, her legs still doing their best to propel her forward in almost a comedic fashion. Opening her eyes, she could just barely make out the man’s features in the pitch of the night, thanks only to the brilliant glow of his blazing eyes. His head was tilted to the side, like a curious child, as he held her be her shoulders, fingers wrapped fully around her biceps, lifting her effortlessly. His mouth, far too wide to be real, was spread back in a sick grin, rows of needle-point teeth lining blackened gums.
“The song…” He said, the words sounding wrong as he spoke around his mouthful of knives. “Actually ends like this.”
And before she could even see him he had lunged forward, jaws snapping wide enough for him to swallow a bowling ball, slamming into her chest, his countless sharpened teeth piercing her like so many needles, ripping through her chest as if it were merely an orange rind with a cute pink baby tee. She swooned, as the pain she thought she would feel never came, merely a sense of nausea and light headedness, accompanied by the sounds of thick gulping, and water splattering on the cold October ground.
Not water… it’s not raining… She thought drunkenly, head swaying back and forth as her eyelids became heavy. That’s my blood…
Her vision, clouding at the edges, became filled with the blazing orbs again, a long multi-pronged tongue cleaning the gore from his face in a lazy fashion as he shuddered in apparent ecstasy. “On a lonely street, on a dark lonely night, a thousand fangs pierce the girl just right. Her blood he seeks to get his fill, her flesh and bones seemed to just fit the bill.” He sang softly, lowering her to the ground gently, like she was a fine piece of china. Her eyes, so heavy with sleep, could just make out that she was lying in a pool of her own blood, and that there were others standing around her, barefoot.
“Now she haunts the street, so ends this tragic tale, but don’t be sad for she didn’t fail.” He continued, waving his long arms wide, singing to his new audience. “She lingers on to see those who’ve sung before, and pray that there will be no more.”
All of the girls around him, some two dozen pairs of cold dark eyes stared back at him, no smile at his lyrics gracing their beautiful features or any kindness in their gaze. Each bore their own mark, their own open wound from which nothing but rot fell. He smiled at them, doing a deep bow with a fantastic flourish of his hands.
“My dear ladies, I would assume you would thank me!” He said in mock anger, eyes flashing brightly in the now silent alley. “After all, everyone loves to make a new friend! And here you go, one who already knew some of my work, a true fan of quality music, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Yes Maestro…” They responded in unison, a dead and hollow chorus of sweet tones made all the worse by their utter lack of emotion.
The creature leaned back with a satisfied smile, taking a deep and long sniff of the crisp night air, arms held wide. In the darkness, one could hardly see him save for his near translucent skin thanks to his black bodysuit. Tall enough to be considered freakish by any normal standards, the creature popped it’s back with a pleasant sigh as the young girls milled about him, their glassy eyes watching his every movement. Even hunched over, long spindly fingers dancing across the asphalt with a hideous crackling of nail on stone, he towered over all of them.
This was made only worse by the fact that he was completely skeletal, his frame that of a man who hadn’t eaten in weeks. Thin cords of muscle moved sickly beneath his pale hands and face, a horrible caricature of life if studied closely. A bald head, smooth as if shaven sat perched atop a high collar, a wide jaw curved up into a prominent chin, pale colorless lips pulled back into a shark-like grin, revealing the countless needles that sat aligned within.
Sara’s last memory, her last thoughts, were those of terror and fear; a chalk-white demon swimming within the shadows of the night had hunted her, stalked her like a wounded deer. He had even played with her, as if her life was so measly a thing that he could make light of it.
And then he had killed her, tearing into her chest with his shark-like mouth, singing some old song she had heard played on the radio every Halloween. She had been powerless, completely and utterly unable to do anything to prevent it. Just as she was now, as she somehow found herself standing over her own body, her chest looking like raw hamburger, her skin grey and cold as the stone beneath it. Her murderer, as inhuman as she remembered, turned to look up from his position on one knee over her body, a slow smile creeping across his features.
“Why?” She asked, not entirely sure what to say. Her hands were at her side, but she could feel the cold wind blowing into her open wound, somehow bloodless and stiff. It confused her, as there was no way she could be alive. But on some level she knew she wasn’t.
“Why?” He repeated, mouthing the words slowly as if he had never heard them before. “Why my dear girl, why not? I heard you as I was on my way home, singing with such a sweet voice, and knew that I had to add you to my choir.”
“Choir?” She asked, still too shaken from the surreal experience to even question the crowd of girls standing around them, all sporting similar wounds across their abdomens and legs, their dead eyes and featureless faces not doing much to ease her nerves.
“Why yes, my choir!” He cried, high and loud, waving at the surrounding girls as if they were explanation enough. “I gather those with talent and make certain their talent need not go to waste due to the ravages of age, or sickness. I preserve their greatness, and entertain those walking this great masterpiece we call Earth for all eternity.”
“Masterpiece of Earth? What kind of nut are you! You freak, why in the Hell did you do this!” Sara cried, the shock of it all sinking in finally.
“I know my dear, the transition can be somewhat difficult, but it really is for the best. It would be a crime to allow your dulcet chords go the wayside in the next few years due to something as silly as hormones. Now you can forever sing, sing like my own personal songbird!” He crowed, standing to his full height, practically skipping with joy at the thought. “Girls, be dearies and take my newest instrument home for me, I still have work to do before the concert!”
Sara couldn’t even protest at such a command as her world seemed to melt around her, the darkness of the night giving way to something far more enveloping, a soul-wrenching void that she could barely even begin to contemplate before she found herself thrust from it just as suddenly. She now stood in a well-lit ballroom that, perhaps years ago, was made to entertain a crowd of hundreds. Now it was old and worn, vast stretches of masonry cracked, paint peeling in wide stripes. A large stage sat against the far wall, near a pair of double doors, while the rest of the room was filled with old wooden tables, covered in worn silken tablecloths.
Two girls, a small Asian child and an older teen with glassy eyes and a gaping throat wound stood close by, motionless. The Asian girl bounded over to her, skipping as she went a wide smile on her face.
“You just be the new performer! Are you excited?” She asked, her blood soaked shirt and large torn streaks marring her face a tad unnerving to look upon.
“Perform? Why the hell should I perform anything for that monster!”
“He’s saved you! Saved you from age and disease, from losing what talents you have! The Maestro has been saving us all for the past three hundred years!” The little girl stomped, her brow furrowed in what would be a cute fashion had her side not been sliced open.
“Don’t mind Mimi, she’s still fresh, like you.” Interrupted the taller girl, seeming to merely appear next to her rather than walk. “After a few years, as your blood thins out, you’ll calm down like the rest of us.”
The girl’s flat, featureless tone was almost a breath of fresh air when compared to the demented cries of the smaller girl, who was now merely pouting at Sara angrily. “Angela, she needs to understand what we’re here for!” Mimi said with a low whine.
Angela waved away her concern with a small smile. “I’ll show her Mimi, we don’t need you throwing a tantrum right now. We just got all of the tables set, and we’ll need the room to appear at its best if we want Maestro to be pleased with us.”
That seemed to cheer the tiny specter up significantly, allowing Sara to breathe a sigh of relief. Mimi gave one final glare to Sara (which was only met with a bewildered blink) before vanishing without as much as a puff of smoke. “Don’t mind her; she seems to be in love with Maestro… it can happen to you, if you convince yourself that all of this was your choice.” Angela deadpanned.
“We’re ghosts, as I’m sure you’ve realized by now.” Angela continued, turning to begin sorting sets of polished silver tableware about the room, plates and knives and forks floating about her head as they slowly drifted to the numerous tables, getting set into proper position. “We are bound to the Unseelie that killed us, so long as our blood flows through his veins. It takes an average of ten to fifteen years for one of us to fade away to nothingness, less if our beloved Maestro sustains some substantial injuries. It takes blood to heal one of them you know.”
“How can you be so calm about all of this?” Sara asked, eyes glued to the floating steak knife, drifting lazily in the air as Angela decided where it was needed.
“I’ve been bound to Maestro for about six years, give or take. My blood is thinning within him, growing more and more diluted as he takes more in. This is allowing my spirit to slowly ease away from this limbo into the great beyond that awaits us all.” Angela explained matter-of-factly, flipping the knife through the air and sending it through the double doors with a sudden flourish. “We’re bound to him, cursed to roam the world as unnatural spirits until he either is slain, or our blood is used up within him. Until then we serve him without question.”
“Why?” Sara asked, walking slowly around one of the finished tables, eyes looking anywhere but at the dead woman before her.
“Because we have no choice. Any wish he has, no matter how perverse, we must follow through with it. For example, I helped shatter the lights tonight as he was moving in for the kill.” Angela said with a careless shrug.
“You helped him kill me?” Sara asked, not knowing how to feel at that thought.
Angela shrugged once more truly disinterested in the conversation. “I and a few others, the older ones. We have far better control than a fresh one like you, so we get the joy of helping him hunt.”
“So… we’re ghosts then,” Sara asked, waving her hand through a close by table for emphasis.
“The best term is poltergeist, as we can still manipulate the material world if given the proper motivation, but for now, yes. You’re a ghost, a vassal to a greater unnatural creature that requires the flesh and blood of the still living to power his very existence.” She answered her flat tone and bored expression etched across her comely features. “Maestro is virtually at the top of the food chain in the supernatural world, what most people would call a vampire; he hunts the living, creates servants and thralls from those willing to be bent to his will, and enslaves those he has slain in grotesque ways to provide him entertainment.”
“Entertainment? Mimi said the same thing a moment ago, what are we going to do, strip for him and his pervy little friends?” Sara asked, a bit of trepidation seeping into her voice.
“Nothing so simple actually. Maestro is called such because he exclusively hunts and feeds on performers.” Angela said, snapping her fingers to whip back a drawn set of curtains, allowing a flood of moonlight to shine into the room. “Unlike us, he truly is what he eats.”
“What? Why can’t you say anything that makes sense?” Sara asked, jumping back as a trio of mops swished past her, cleaning the floor without any visible direction.
“We’re merely echoes of what we once were, memories given form by the lingering fluids once taken from our physical selves. As those fluids thin out, they’re mixed with the fluids of others, altering us until we are merely a shadow of several different people; their skills, their memories, their personalities… all one rough amalgamation crammed into spectral form.” Angela sighed, shoulders slumping at the very idea. “That’s why the older we are, the more… detached we feel. We can feel our minds being eroded away by foreign thoughts and desires, hopes and dreams. I can’t even remember where I was born, let alone where and how I died. All I really know is what the Maestro allows me to.”
“Which is what, how to be entertaining? Because I hate to burst your morbid little bubble, but you’re kind of a mood killer.” Sara said with a grimace.
“All I know is cleaning and kinetic motion… how to interact with the real world. There are three others like me, all with memories of hunters and trappers, of soldiers. We help him hunt, help him add to his stable.” Angela said with a faint smile. “Most of the other ghosts, like you, are kept to entertain. He floods your mind with years of musical training, inundates your thoughts with past performances and songs; makes it to where everything you are, what makes you… you, is music.”
Sara didn’t truly know what to say to such a statement, but on some level she knew it to be true. All she could really remember at the moment was her death, a horrible jumble of sensations all made worse by the pain and terror that had accompanied them. Instead of remembering her birthday, she could now faintly hear a lovely ballad sung in a voice strikingly similar to hers, in a language she didn’t know, but was beginning to understand.
“It’s already started then, as you can tell.” Angela said with a smirk, waving a hand elegantly towards the far wall, the strips of peeling paint quickly rolling back up the walls, slowly aligning back into their original shapes, the torn seams vanishing slowly. “The thoughts… the memories you know aren’t yours… they’re ours. Each and every one of us. Every person slain by Maestro, every time he’s fed on their vital essence, they’ve been slowly woven into the vast folds that are our minds.”
“She’s hearing the Sonata…” Another voice said, a hollow whispering that sounded as if the wind itself were speaking. Sara turned to see a frail girl… no, a frail woman, floating just mere inches from her. Her hair drifting lazily about her translucent frame as if she were suspended in a pool of crystal clear water, her eyes but hollow points of pale moonlight. Her skin was old, paper thin and worn. “The Sonata is what Maestro loves to hear from his newest acquisitions. It’s a song from his homeland, he told me. Long ago, a song that was sung to warn of the threats that surrounded them, the threats that lurked in the night.”
“That’s Eve…” Angela whispered to Sara just over her shoulder. “She’s been here the longest, and if what we believe is true, will soon be leaving us. Finally going to rest, after her years of service to Maestro.”
“Over a hundred years I’ve sang for him, from every moment he falls to bed from every moment he awakens… he loves to hear the Sonata, in his native tongue of course…” Eve whispered, floating closer to Sara than she felt comfortable with. The lower half of the woman’s body was merely vapor, no visible wounds standing out from her ancient features. “You’ll be learning it soon enough dearie, make no mistake.”
“Thank you?” Sara said awkwardly, not really knowing how to respond to such a statement. She felt a cold wash over her as Eve’s hand fell upon her cheek, a soft caress from what could have easily been made of ice.
“So lovely… just like I was when I was younger.” Eve said to herself as she began to fade from view, her voice becoming a mere echo. “So lovely…”
The time passed strangely for Sara, with vast tracts of time slipping past her notice like water through her fingers. Mimi would flutter into existence close by, dragging her through the crushing void to another section of the mansion, or perhaps another home, forcing her to gather supplies that their wayward master would apparently require in the coming evening. As they would return with armfuls of linens and silverware, Angela would tell Sara to aid another three specters in cleaning the vast kitchens behind the double doors, a task that proved futile as she was utterly incapable of doing any such task without the most direct of supervision, as her thoughts, her mind, were slowly being overcome with thoughts of songs, of notes and chords, of lyrics and melodies… all things Sara knew she had never heard before in life, but seemed to haunt her forever in death.
She found herself steered away from the kitchen after a time, trapped in a darkened corner of the house with the vaporous form of Eve watching over here, silently listening as she hummed the very song that reverberated throughout Sara’s mind. She ignored all attempts at conversation, and somehow seemed to have found a way to contain Sara within the stiflingly dark room, as every time she moved to leave she would find herself seated once more across from her, the same rotting armchair beneath her with the same broken table between her and Eve. Between the songs playing over and over in her head, the only thing she could really focus on was how her family must be feeling, how worried they must be.
Her two bratty cousins, her little brother and sister… their faces kept flashing through her mind’s eye, along with the images of her mother and father, and of her Aunt and Uncle. Did they know she was dead? It had to be morning already, and with her body left out like that she could only imagine how horrified they would be to find her. How was her little brother taking it? Her sister, only a baby really, wouldn’t be too broken up by it as she couldn’t understand death quite yet, but would she miss Sara at all? Would she even remember her?
“It’s almost time dearie.” Eve announced suddenly, her paper thin voice cracking from the effort it took the spirit to speak. “Just know that we’ve all gone through it, and it gets easier with time.”
“What, performing? I know it gets easier… I think.” Sara said, not really knowing which of her thoughts were hers and which were someone else’s.
Eve didn’t respond, choosing instead to pull them both into the soul-crushing darkness of the void and back into the ballroom that Sara had first appeared in. While it had been well lit before, now the entire place seemed to practically glow with energy, great spheres of light fluttering along the ceiling like fireflies, sparking whenever they came in contact with dazzling delight,
The ancient tables, now covered with more presentable linens than before, were now full of guests, all as disturbing to lay eyes upon as her killer. At least thirty to forty of the foul creatures sat in the hall, chatting and laughing amongst themselves, though not all were as frightening as the Maestro. Some wore their hair in long curtains down their backs, elegant ebon cocktail dresses hugging their pale flesh in all of the right places, blazing red eyes highlighted by equally bright lipstick, made only terrifying when they spoke or smiled, revealing rows of needle-like teeth. Squat men in tuxedo suits sat with long handled cigarettes, chatting with bearded men in robes, while several young-looking children ran about the floor chasing a yipping dog.
The children’s wide mouths and flaring eyes almost made Sara weep for the fate of the dog, but she choked back the sob that struggled to come forth. Eve placed a frozen hand on her forearm to draw her attention, and it was only when she turned did she meet the eyes of her maker.
“There is my little diamond!” Maestro crowed, dressed in skintight black silk, towering above her with eyes a dull glow. “How is she, dear Eve? Is she ready you think?”
“As ready as one in her position can be Maestro, but I know that I am ready. Please, let us move on with the show.” Eve creaked, moving to take Maestro’s offered elbow. Which seemed to help her float alongside him as he walked to the edge of the stage they stood upon. The crowd fell silent as the ebon giant waved for their attention.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I invite you here for my dear Eve’s two-hundred and fiftieth performance with utmost pride and never-ending sorrow. This performance, a piece I have favored for untold years, shall be her last.” Maestro announced, a deep sense of loss somehow being sent through his words that the crowd easily seemed to pick up upon as a collective groan rose from them.
“Now, let us not taint this marvelous event with such sadness, but instead embrace the new era of my latest talent!” Maestro said, waving the crowds disgruntled cries away before holding out a spidery hand to Sara, drawing her close to him. “Tonight shall be her debut upon the stage, and as is custom, let us aid her in her artistic endeavors!”
Sara didn’t even have time to think about what perverted custom he could be thinking of before a sudden whooshing of air, followed by a sharp and loud crack broke through the following silence. Dangling, some ten feet from the stage and from the rafters high above by a single length of thick piano wire, was her Uncle Mortimer, twitching in a macabre form of dance as the last vestiges of life ebbed from his body, blood spilling from the sliced flesh of his neck and dripping through his fake Vampire costume. A loud cry rent the air from above, and in horror Sara watched as her mother and father were pushed from the same rafter by a grim faced Angela, their screams not screams of mercy for themselves, but for of their children lined up for the next drop.
Sara’s mouth opened to scream and to beg, but all that came out were the words to that damn song that had been stuck in her head, a solid stream of richly sung French that held all of Sara’s anguish and fear. The song grew louder and louder as she watched her cousins pushed over the ledge, followed by her brother, watching their bodies writhe and struggle at the end of a long length of wire as they struggled for breath, as the cord cut through their slender necks, and as their blood fell from their bodies and into the hungering mouths of the Maestro’s guests.
The song reached its crescendo as Sara caught sight of the Maestro walking up onto the stage, cradling the sleeping form of her baby sister. Watching in horror as his mouth grew wider and wider, a veritable bear trap of blackened needles and bleeding gums. The high point came and crashed like a thousand waves upon the sand as he closed his mouth with an audible snap, her sister no longer sleeping and no longer there, now just a bulge in the Maestro’s throat as it expanded and forced the body of her struggling sibling down into his body.
With the song done and her family now swinging softly in an unseen breeze, Sara could do nothing but stand there as she was given a round of applause by the blood-drenched demons around her, forced to bow to them with blank eyes at the Maestro’s perverted whim, and to begin the song anew with the images of her family dying flashing before her eyes in a way she could not control nor stop. The only thing she knew to be her own within her head was the single phrase she had heard Eve say to her, in what Sara could now tell was in an apologetic tone.
“Just know that we’ve all gone through it, and it gets easier with time.”
Credit To – Nicholas Paschall
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