I could feel the blood trickle from my fingertips on both hands, but I felt no pain. I was aware they were bleeding, but I felt no motivation to take any action to stop it. The tones echoing from my guitar were intoxicating. I felt drunk from it. No, that’s not the right word. It felt almost erotic. My right leg had become damp below where my guitar rested, while my fingers danced a glorious waltz between the strings. I often used a pick to strum the strings, but this melody required my fingers. When I sat down to play earlier that evening, I was using my pick. It was my favorite one. I loved the thin picks. The ones that brushed themselves so easily up and down the strings. I’d broken many of them over my career as a budding musician, but this one had stood the test of time. Where was it now? I wondered briefly as my mind escaped the melodic trance for a single moment, before I was once again ensnared by the haunting tune.
I could hear my guitar weeping and nothing more. Brief thoughts would enter my brain before it was captured, once more, by the sounds reverberating against the walls. The normal sounds of cars passing by in the city below my fourth floor window did not put a dent in my focus. They did not even resonate in the room anymore, as long as my strings were dancing under my fingertips. I could feel the euphoria burst from within me as my song reached its climax. The walls seemed to soundlessly vibrate before me as the notes exploded beneath my touch. For a moment, the entire world existed only in this building. Only in this room. I heard it in my head as though I had just given birth to a blissful and beautiful joy that could reshape reality itself.
The walls of my tiny apartment shuddered wildly as cracks formed along them with light bursting from behind. The light shone colors I had never before imagined, even in my most violent, drug fueled dreams. The cracks widened and the shaking drywall began to disintegrate between them. The ceiling and floor followed suit as they gave way, not to the other rooms above and below me, but to a gorgeous world of colors and shapes I could not even begin to fathom. I found myself hovering above a beautiful landscape below me. Trees of such vivid hues traced the new world under my feet. A shimmering, pearlescent lake flowed freely between them, leading to a magnificent waterfall which crashed down to a riverbed below. I hovered above this fantastical scene and moved quickly forward, almost matching the flow of the rapids as they raced towards the fall. Enormous mountains stood before me. They were lined with snow, though it was not cold. There was a warmth to this magical place and a pleasant breeze brushed it’s way around me. The snow vibrated on the mountain faces, though it was not forced to cascade downwards, but to awake something within.
I floated closer and closer as I watched the mountains separate, as if a door on its surface gave way to reveal a woman rising up from inside. She was featureless, yet she glowed in a manner to suggest something otherworldly. Something angelic. She came bursting through the top of the mountain as though it had just given birth to her. She reached her hand out to me. Her hair blew wildly, though I could not feel any wind outside of the light breeze around me. I was still hypnotized by the music erupting from beneath my fingers. Light erupted from around the woman, who now hovered closer, both arms outstretched towards me.
She was upon me now and her hands began to caress my face. I could have basked in her presence until my body became cold and still. I breathed in her scent and it nourished me more than any meal that had ever crossed my lips. Her gentle fingers ran through my hair as her face was mere inches before mine. “Will you dance with me?” She asked in a soft and serene voice. For a moment my heart sank as I feared that if I laid down my guitar to take her hands, this place would be lost to me. I just continued to gaze into her featureless face as she weaved her fingers through my hair. This was where I belonged. This was what I had been looking for, striving for since my eyes looked at the world for the very first time. I wanted to remain here forever.
I suddenly felt a pain run across my arm as the low E string on my guitar snapped and slashed me across the back of my wrist. I shook my head as I sat in my chair with my guitar resting upon my leg. I was confused and felt lost for a moment. I’m in my apartment. Of course I am. Where else would I be? I felt as though I had just awakened from an incredibly vivid dream as I looked around my small one bedroom apartment. I was strangely surprised to see my dingy walls looking back at me. I was even more taken aback when I looked down to see my fingertips were shredded and blood soaked my jeans and the floor beneath my feet. In addition, I had a slight gash across the back of my wrist where my broken string had caught it. I propped my scratched and chipped old guitar on its stand and made my way to the bathroom to wash my fresh wounds.
I winced as I held my fingertips under the warm water. Blood was still freely flowing as the warm water poured over them. I reached up to pull open the mirror to reveal my medicine cabinet behind. I pulled the bottle of rubbing alcohol and felt the rush of pain streak through my left arm as the liquid trickled over it’s fingers. I switched hands and repeated the process causing fresh pain to surge through my right hand. I whipped my towel from my towel rack and gripped it tightly with both hands to attempt to cease the blood flow, as I slowly strolled back to my living room. I gasped slightly as I let my eyes meet the pool of blood on the floor. I didn’t feel light headed or queasy from blood loss or anything, but it seemed a substantial amount had leaked from my fingers. How long was I playing for? I wondered as I walked to my bedroom to check the time on my alarm clock that rested snugly on my tarnished, second hand nightstand. “Seven am!?” I declared aloud to myself.
Taking a mental note of where my day had taken me before making it back to my apartment today, well, yesterday as it happens, I knew I had arrived back here around two in the afternoon. I only had two classes to attend that day, and I had turned down Jeremy’s offer to hit up the bowling alley as I wanted to practice on my instrument. Had I really been playing this whole time? Today should be Saturday, if I wasn’t mistaken, though my internal clock was quite shaken up to say the least. I suddenly realized how exhausted I was, having completely skipped rest to play my guitar. I grabbed an old t-shirt and cut it into strips to wrap my hands as well as I could and collapsed into bed without setting an alarm.
I was asleep before my head hit the pillow. Somewhere in my subconscious, I grasped and struggled to get back to the colorful trees and pearlescent water, but slumber pulled me into a world of my own making. I sat on my chair staring out into a crowded theater of faceless people. They chanted my name like a theme as I looked upon them. I was wearing an old Victorian style tuxedo with the exception of my torn jeans. I held a guitar in my lap, but it was not my own. It was a glossy, shimmering red that looked as though it rippled beneath my touch. The crowd fell silent as I ran the back of my forefinger across the strings. There was an aura that emitted from the instrument as I played the familiar melody. It looked like the effect the blistering heat has on the pavement, as if reality is hiding in plain sight behind a translucent veil.
My haunting tune progressed as audience members wept and cried out my name. My song ended and I raised my eyes to look upon my adoring audience. The theater was empty with the exception of a lone individual. A man with black eyes, wearing a long red robe stood alone in the center of the theater. His face was a light grey and his long flowing hair was a shining jet black. He walked slowly towards the stage, clapping his hands as he approached. His smile was wide, almost meeting his ears on either side of his face. His gaze made me feel cold as a tingle of pain ran the length of my spine. I looked from his eyes to the rest of the deserted room. It was then that I saw the blood. It lined every seat in the house and had trickled down the aisle to where the man was now standing directly in front of the stage. His smile became more menacing as a frown began to line his brow. He opened his mouth wide. Wider than possible for any man or even beast. It emitted a sound such as I have never heard. I dropped my guitar to the floor of the stage and clutched my ears. Blood ran between my fingers as pain echoed from my ears as though something were growing within them.
I woke to find myself damp from sweat. I grabbed my ears expecting to find my hands soaked with blood when I looked at them, but nothing. I did notice, though, that my fingertips were no longer showing any sign of damage. I turned my hands and saw that the scratch from my broken string still lay across the back of my wrist, but my fingertips were completely unharmed. If I didn’t know any better, I’d even say they looked better than before. I had been quite clumsy as a child, and I still wore many scars from the accidents of my youth. I knew I had cut my fingers in my younger years, from a variety of mistakes my curious mind brought me. On top of that, my fingers no longer wore the calluses that had grown over my ten previous years of playing a string instrument. I still felt groggy from sleeping. I looked at my alarm clock to see that I had slept for a good eight hours as it was approaching three O’clock. I may as well do something with my day, I thought as I staggered to my kitchen to retrieve a bottle of water from the refrigerator.
Upon seeing my beat up guitar resting safely on its stand, surrounded by only my ratty carpet with no blood stains in sight, I chalked the thought of my shredded fingertips as just another aspect of my bizarre dreams. The old shirt I had used to constrict my blood flow was still nestled at the back of my shirt drawer. That, combined with the lack of stains in my living room and bathroom, I had to deduce it had all been a figment of my exhausted mind. The string on my guitar was indeed broken, though. I would need to buy more strings soon, as my music class demanded my instrument be as present as myself. My mother and step father still sent me money weekly to help my academic path to move along well. That combined with my part time job, made most of the essentials easy enough to handle. Sure, I couldn’t afford the prettiest apartment, or the nicest of furnishings, but everything I needed could be covered easily enough. Today, that necessity would be fresh guitar strings.
Though my guitar was old, the music it was capable of producing was sublime. I thought of myself as quite the experienced musician, but I had never been able to reproduce the notes as beautifully on another instrument. I had played around with much music store fodder over my years, but even the most expensive of them could never match the sound of mine. Perhaps it was all in my head. It was my father’s guitar, after all. There’s no denying that sentimental value can alter perceptions. He was a masterful player in his day. I remember spending so much of my youth crouched on the floor in front of him, watching his fingers make love to the strings.
He died in a vehicular accident when I was ten years old, but before he took that Ill fated trip, he passed the guitar to me as an early birthday present. My birthday was still a solid three months away and as well received as the gift was, it felt out of place and a little awkward. I remember it well, even though many years have gone by since that day. I was eating my cereal and watching cartoons as my father made his way through the front door. He didn’t have to go to work that day, but he spoke of errands that could not be put off any longer. He seemed to wait outside for some time before he would even approach his car.
Curiously, I walked through the door to make sure all was well. I found my father just standing there, staring out into the world. We lived in a generic, suburban neighborhood, so there were little sights to distract the mind. I stood in the doorway looking up at my father for a few moments before he took notice of my arrival behind him. He turned to me and laid his hand on my shoulder as the smile of a proud father spread across his face. He gestured with his head for me to follow him back into the house and I strolled behind him as he made his way to his study. I was generally only allowed in this room when he was playing his guitar and I assumed he meant to play me something before he left for the afternoon. I went to assume my usual position on the floor before my father turned back to face me, holding his guitar out towards me. Even back then it had damage, but that never affected how it sounded. That alone made it enchanting to me. It was old and it had belonged to my father’s father before him. It bore no brand name on its headstock, only a symbol embossed in gold. It was as if my dad was handing me Excalibur itself. In my mind I took a knee before him as an enrobed king lay the fabled weapon into my outstretched hands.
“She’s yours now, kiddo.” My father said, still wearing that proud smile.”Treat her well and allow her to treat you the same.” He tussled my hair as a single tear made its way down my face, eventually dropping down with a minuscule splash to the waiting instrument. My father then left me standing in his study, slightly in shock and gripping the guitar tightly, as he made his way back outside. I heard the engine from his Jeep roar to life and the sound of the engine faded to silence as he drove away. That was the last time I saw my father, though my memories of him still hold strong in my mind’s eye.
I didn’t own a vehicle, outside of my bicycle I would often use to traverse the grounds of my local college. I would have to take the subway to make my way out of the city and take the bus from there to reach the Bibliotheca music store in the small town of Lynchburg, that sat outside the border of the city. It was the only store remotely close by that kept Giovanni strings in stock. There were a few online retailers that would carry them, but I needed them quickly. My father swore by the Giovanni’s and they were the only strings he would allow to grace his precious instrument. I swore I would never allow another string to weave itself across her. It took around two hours for me to finally arrive at the Bibliotheca. It was an old building that stood alone, in the center of a parking lot away from any other building.
The design of the small store always seemed more akin with an old book store or some sort of hidden trove to acquire ancient scriptures or even delve into the occult. It felt ancient and dusty, though it was never unclean or unkempt. I approached the shelf that would always hold the Giovanni strings to find it bare. No strings of any kind lay upon it. My heart quickened slightly as I made my way around the interior of the building in search of the silver plated copper strings. After searching to no avail, I approached the man behind the counter. He was always here. Everytime I had arrived at this store in search of strings or anything else that may strike that day’s fancy, he would be on his stool behind the wooden counter. His fingers were heavily calloused due to decades of pressing the strings to the fretboard. He would drum his fingertips on the counter as if he were a living metronome, and it sounded as if he were striking it with tiny drumsticks. He knew my face, though not my name. Truthfully, I had no idea what his name was, either. I approached the slender, bearded man and asked if he may have any Giovanni’s in the back. My heart was still beating hard. It felt a little irrational to have become so worked up over guitar strings, but I would not lay another brand’s strings across my girl.
Moments later, the old man came back from the room behind him, holding several packs of different gauges of Giovanni strings. The racing in my chest calmed and I gestured towards the light gauge strings. I asked if he had two packs, as it would save me a trip should this happen again anytime soon. The man asked me kindly if I could lay the other packs on the bare shelf and he retreated to the back room once more. I would have bought more than two packs, but these strings were not cheap. My guitar may look worn down to the untrained eye, but she deserved the best, and the best is never cheap.
Night was falling when I walked the stairs to reach my apartment. During my quest, a friend had sent me a text inviting me to a party at one of the apartment complexes closer to the school. I replied that I had plans for the night that could not weasel my way out of, though I hated to miss the festivities. He seemed to believe it enough to leave me be. It’s not that I was in any way antisocial or adverse to the idea of drinking myself into some random girl’s bed. I just had to take care of the woman closest to my heart before I could attend to another’s desires. She was still resting soundly on her stand when I arrived back in my home.
I instantly began removing the old strings, taking care not to scratch her any more than she was already. I found her scars beautiful, truth be told. They made her as unique in body as she was in soul. After removing the old strings and wrapping them around each other to make for easy disposal, I began threading the new ones. One by one, I glided them from the bridge, up the neck and across the nut. I slid them softly through the tuners and tightened them slowly. It was a dance we had performed many times over the years, but it made that first strum across the fresh strings ever so sweeter.
I caressed my guitar softly and began to brush the strings with my fingers. I had forgotten to grab some new picks at the music store, but I’m sure I had some around here somewhere. Though the song I had played in my presumed dream had slipped from my memory, I knew I could only reach it again with my fingertips. The calluses on my fingers had healed and softened, but I felt no distress or pain while I pressed the strings to the fretboard. My skin showed no indentations from the strings when I checked them after laying down my guitar for a moment to seek a beverage from the kitchen. I refreshed my thirst and began to play again. Time seemed irrelevant as my girl began to weep her sweet song. My fingers were prisoners to her will.
Though my father had been a blues man, I was more partial to the classics. Toccata and Fugue by Bach was my go to warm up, and I would often follow with Winter from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Every note had become pure muscle memory, and I would pluck every chord with my eyes closed to fully embrace the melody. I played through the classics before improvising with my eyes still tightly shut. Though I was pleased with the music I produced, I never came close to the haunting tune from my dream. I couldn’t recall how it went, but I knew what it wasn’t. After some hours, I placed my girl back upon her velvet lined stand and gave into slumber.
My dreams continued their recently formed tradition of showing me the bizarre. I was standing on the roof of the Bibliotheca, alone with my guitar. The music I played was as hard to understand as the written word to the dreamer, but it drew masses around the building. People flocked to the parking lot surrounding the building, just to see my guitar bellowing it’s songs from speakers unseen. It seemed to produce the amplified tones all on its own, well, with the aid of my fingertips. Though I still played with my eyes closed, my disembodied sleeping eyes looked on from above as the crowd of faceless listeners began to sway and dance. It was as though each person was unaware of anyone else around them, as they pulled knives and axes and other bladed weapons from the air around them. Their arms flailed wildly as their dance intensified, the blades gripped between their fingers carving deeply into their neighbors flesh.
Nobody reacted to their numerous, gaping wounds as they continued moving their bodies to the music. Neither screams nor howls of pain would break their focus. Blood streamed beneath their feet as limbs would become severed from the frolicking throng. This would continue until my music stopped. I stood to my feet and laid my guitar upon its stand, which had become a small golden and red velvet throne. I took a single bow to my weeping audience. Those who still had all of their limbs applauded, while others cheered and called out my name. Roses covered the roof of the building which had become my stage until all fell silent. The horde of my adoring fans fell to the ground, as I felt a hand lay upon my shoulder. I turned to see who was there, and…
My eyes opened to see my room filled with sunlight. I hadn’t paid any attention to what time I gave into sleep the night before, but I felt no exhaustion or desire to remain in my bed. Most mornings would find me awakened by the all too familiar sound of my bellowing alarm clock, but few things were as satisfying as waking only after the desired hours of rest have been fulfilled. Filled with energy and a sense of purpose, I jumped from my bed to meet the new day. Though my dreams had once again nestled themselves deeply within my subconscious, I was driven with purpose. I would return to the Bibliotheca once more. I had never taken my treasured guitar with me on my previous trips. I had rarely taken it anywhere, outside of my school and whatever home I resided in at the time. Perhaps I was afraid of further damaging my sweet girl, or maybe I was concerned that thieves may see the value in it as much as I. Regardless of any of that, she would be my passenger on this day. After all the years and all of the build up and anticipation, we would finally be experiencing our first real date. She was my lover and I longed for her caress.
I sat on the subway seat with arms wrapped snugly around the hard shell case that contained my guitar. I held her close to my body and kept my grip on her tight. I followed suit as I boarded the bus, only breaking my grasp for a moment to pass my loose change to the driver upon entering. To onlookers, I may have appeared similar to a paranoid older woman clutching her handbag, weary of suspicious individuals in the vicinity. I paid no attention to the people perched in the surrounding seats. My focus was on my destination. The trip to the Bibliotheca seemed to last an eternity, though time had passed in its usual fashion. I stepped from the bus and continued to keep my grip tight as I strolled the sidewalks to arrive at the store.
Standing before the door, I felt a rush of adrenaline spike through my chest. I extended an arm from the shell that surrounded my girl to push the door inwards, causing the small bell hanging above the entrance to jingle in recognition of my arrival. I heard the drumming of the owner on his countertop fall silent as I approached him. I crouched down to lay the case on the floor, snapping it’s clasps loose and raising it’s lid upwards. I stood to meet the old bearded man’s eye, holding my guitar out towards him with both arms. His eyes looked to the guitar, before they shifted up to meet my gaze. A smile crossed his lips as he raised from the stool he had been resting upon. He grew taller as he straightened his posture, and his clothes began to transform before my eyes. They turned to something that resembled what royalty might have worn centuries before. A long, gold lined red tunic came down to cropped, black trousers. Red stockings ran from his knees down to the healed and buckled shoes. A similarly gold lined red and black cloak was draped over his shoulders and ruffled sleeves ran the length of his arms down to the long black gloves.
A large and elegant book lay in his left arm with his hand clasped around its base. The book, along with his cape and collar, bore the same symbol that was etched into the headstock of my guitar. He raised his right hand to his face, which had become expressionless and he wrapped his fingers around his mouth. He pulled his face away from his head causing a subtle light to shine from behind it. The detached face seemed to have turned solid, as though it were a mask and he released it from his grasp. It floated to the side of his head as a multitude of other male and female faces appeared around him. They circled his head as if they were the rings of Saturn and he raised his hand to me.
When I took his hand, the cracks and scratches on my guitar faded away as it became a glossy red that looked as though it were brand new. No more scars on the pickguard from decades of playing. The symbol that had once been gold paint now glowed brightly from the light it now shone. The wooden counter that had stood between the many faced man and I had vanished, and we stood before a flight of stairs that led upwards to where more light was shining down. We walked side by side and hand in hand up the wide steps until we reached the roof of the building.
Bibliotheca now stood three times as tall as it had before I entered that day. It felt almost as if it were a temple, of sorts. There was a golden throne atop the music store that seemed to reflect the entire world around it as though it were meant to project it deeply into the universe. The towering man beckoned me forward to where the roof gave way to the world below it before he took his place upon the glistening throne. Thousands of people had begun to gather in front of the building, and the entire city around us had fallen silent as more wandered towards us. Without hesitation, I ran my fingers across the strings wound tightly across my instrument, and the flock of people looked on with tears welling in their eyes.
My fingers began their dance, but not to the classics. They found their way on pure instinct as I closed my eyes to become lost in their song. The notes echoed across the land in front of me as it gave way to the shimmering lake once more. Again, I found myself gliding towards the mountains as they ejected the featureless woman as they had before. Though she had no face to speak of, I was enamored nonetheless as we flew towards each other. “Will you dance with me?” She asked in little more than a whisper. I released my guitar from my hands and it hovered beside me, still singing it’s beautiful song. I took my lady’s waiting hands and we danced until the sun retreated for the day. As the moon arose and the land fell dark, I gave into sleep in my lover’s arms.
I awoke on the roof of the Bibliotheca music store feeling a rush of confusion at first. I barely recalled boarding the subway that day, and only vaguely held the memory of pushing open the door to the building I lay atop of. My head spun as I lifted myself up from the grainy surface beneath me and I felt stiff from resting on such a place. I staggered slightly when I got to my feet and I almost fell to my knees from the sudden pounding of my head. It felt like a horrendous hangover caused by a night of eradicating personal demons through hours of alcohol ingestion. I saw my scratched and chipped guitar laying on the ground beside where I had awoken. There was a brand new and decently sized chunk taken out of the base of her body as if I had dropped it to the ground before I lost my senses. I rubbed my fingers across the new wound as if to console her for the injury I had apparently caused. I saw no sign of my hardshell case, so I wrapped the strap across my shoulder and let her rest on my back as I made my way back to the open trap door behind me.
I descended the ladder that led from the roof back down to the store below, feeling a strange recollection of a staircase that led this way before. I paced across the second floor of the building and strolled down the thin stairway that led back to the bottom. When I passed through the doorway back into the room of the building I was more familiar with, I gasped slightly and covered my mouth. Dust and cobwebs covered everything from the ceiling to the shelves and the counter that sat in front of the storage room. It looked as though no life had crossed this floor in decades, though the shelves and wall pegs still held so many untouched instruments and accessories. I passed through the aisles I had walked many times before, leaving fresh prints from my feet in the thick layer of dust on the floor. I reached the front door and pulled it inwards with my outstretched hand causing the rusted and tarnished bell to give a faint jingle. My jaw fell open when my eyes met the sight of thousands of dismembered, decayed and decomposed human corpses lining the streets I had strolled through only hours ago. What I recalled to be hours, anyway.
It has been several months since I trudged through the cluttered, body ridden streets of Lynchburg. I wandered for hours and days finding no signs of life in sight. Days ran into weeks, and weeks into months, and I have still found nothing or nobody. I found an abandoned car with the keys still inside, and since all the people I saw were dead, I saw no reason not to take it. I drove through the city streets and found that only the long since dead bodies lay on the sidewalks and pavements. I returned to my apartment building to find only more dust and decay. The world I live in now seems to be occupied by only the memories of life. Did I somehow travel to a future after this earth died and fell still? Could the events that exist still foggy in my mind on the roof of the Bibliotheca really have taken place? Was it I who brought an end to this world through the haunting melody that sent me to that beautiful place? I may never have the answers I seek, and I may never find another living soul in this land of the dead. I leave this as a record to anyone who may find it someday. I only sought to play my music. I only hoped to inspire others with my songs. I never wanted any of this. I will likely take my own life soon, but only after I burn my precious guitar to cinders. Should anyone ever read this, please forgive me.
Credit : William Rayne
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