Jack put resin to bow, an absence in his eyes.
The violin’s neck was warm beneath his callused fingers. He had placed it upon the radiator to push back the midwinter frost, the musician within him fighting to preserve his instrument even as all else lay in ruins. Jack maintained it as he did his own body, by force of habit rather than any true effort of will, and in the past few days even the regular grind of sustenance and sleep had fallen away in the pursuit of his goal.
The object of his fervor sat before him upon a broken stool; a battered messenger bag that held a surcease to sorrow, an end to pain. From its leather folds he withdrew a stack of vellum pages, bound with twine and covered in neat, fluid notation. Settling them atop the music stand, Jack looked hungrily on the rows of notes marching hypnotically from left to right.
The Song to End the World.
He had stumbled upon them by accident, or fate, or through some divine act of will by an otherwise disinterested creator. The how was unimportant, it was the why that mattered now. Why it had come to him, why he held the pages, and Jack was convinced he knew the answer.
The notation was of an old style, early 1600’s at the latest, and difficult to read. Partial notes and scattered damage to the pages would require significant effort and skill to restore. The positioning shifts of the melody alone would have been difficult for a master, but the rapid sequencing in the central section was nearly impossible for all but the most gifted of players. Jack believed that he alone in all this wretched life possessed both the ability and the will to perform this task, and it burned in him to do so.
When he’d first found the pages, Jack had thought little of it, aside from briefly considering how much they might be sold for. In some idle searching online he had translated its name from the original Italian, La Canto che Finisce il Terra, and snorted aloud at the composer’s arrogance. Later, numb with boredom and dulled by drink, he had touched bow to string in an effort to delay the black depression that settled upon him every evening.
A stanza later he fell to his knees, filled with the certainty that this was all it claimed to be. He awoke the next morning held by a stony purpose such as he had not felt in years, and set to repairing what was lost from the cracking pages. As he pieced together note and rhythm he saw beneath them the bones of a song far older than the renaissance, more ancient than the lyre or lute that were the progenitors of the instrument he now held. What genius had discovered this pattern interwoven with the fabric of the creation Jack did not know, the signature smeared by age to a black mark of ink.
It had taken three months of labor, testing and trying and practicing until he was again in the form he had fallen so far from. Three months until he was capable of bringing the full glory of this masterpiece into existence. For this all-consuming mission he had sold what remained of their home, his home, to keep himself alive as the snows of winter fell.
So now he sat within the bare gray walls of a slum husk in the poorest part of town. He had found the former resident departed at the end of a needle, having rigged the radiator to give some spare heat and then shuffled free the mortal coil by his own hand, drawn away into the darkness by whatever drugged pleasure had been his life’s vice. Jack had removed the man, a distant part of his mind feeling pity for the wretch–one more reason to make certain that the source of such misery was finally, and permanently, removed.
To this purpose he took up his bow, and read again the small note he had translated below the unknown composer’s name.
To bring forth the end, one must start at the beginning
And so he began to play.
As before, when the first long, slow notes flowed forth from within his violin, the light began to drain from the room. The sun’s watery winter rays grew weaker every moment, leaving Jack in a lonely dimness that seemed to have neither distance nor time. He could not read the notes before him, but it did not matter. This passage he knew by heart, as it echoed the yawning hollow he carried within his chest.
With almost immeasurable grace the tempo began to increase, throwing out swirling bright notes to burn like errant embers against the lightless melody. Jack drew breath in deep, preparing for the rise he knew to be coming, tears slipping from beneath closed eyes. As he burst into the swelling harmony he was pulled again to that moment so long ago, when his son first woke to him and smiled. The melody alighted upon days of pure life and light, the softly formed vibrato a child’s quick blue eyes as he laughed aloud at a world still new. Fresh air streamed through the window cracks, bringing with it the impossible scent of dandelion and fresh cut grass.
The memory sunk bitter claws into his soul, tearing old wounds anew, and Jack surged on into the coming fall. As he forced such thoughts from his mind, the music slowed once more, dropped down in octave, and brought to mind a freshly cooling world. The wild heat of youth abandoned for a more stable and dependable base. Unbidden, it called forth in Jack’s mind his own adolescence, playing the slow progression of a young man locked away from the sun and forced to try and create beauty. Within that darkness he had found a love for his art, but a violent love that carried with it an edge too sharp to hold, the edge that would drive him long past reason in pursuit of utter perfection.
Still slower dipped the song, all but coming to a halt as the steady rhythm of new formed seas washed in and out against unnamed shores. The tune held in it a potential to stay in stasis, a steady erosion of sound, pulsing forth for eternity. Yet Jack opened his eyes now to see the page before him and brought forth the first flutter of life. It was nearly unnoticeable at first, a gentle addition to the whole, yet distinctly different and on a time scale entirely removed from the stately dance of continents. As the newcomer grew into longer pulls of the bow, Jack heard the soft murmur of a living heart, and the starting notes of love.
He had seen her first in the subway station, a passing pause in the crowd opening to create a perfect window. Jack had seen her face and been struck by a rare moment, in which every fiber of his being cried out to meet her, to hear her speak his name, and then was crushed as she disappeared between doors sliding closed. A day that had been fine turned sour in that moment, and he left lovelorn for a woman who never saw his face. When she had gotten in the same elevator later that afternoon he very nearly died, and departed with a phone number he’d fervently prayed was not fake.
Their romance flashed before him as the notes climbed to the higher scales’ unclaimed territory, rising from a thriving sea. She had been a whirlwind that he merely followed, feeling blessed for every kiss and smile that touched upon him, never daring to believe she’d stay. Jack tumbled through the music, barely keeping pace as it rose in ferocity, sending wild spirals of song out into the room now bathed in vibrant color. Then suddenly, brutally, inevitably, it ceased.
A single note survived, wavering on without clear direction or purpose. A man who Jack no longer knew stood before two graves, long past when the stars emerged to shine their dispassionate, lifeless light. As notes of hungry cold dripped from his violin, Jack was devoured from within by guilt, still as potent and deadly a year later. He had not been there. He had been away, performing for a young orchestra, consenting to step down from his ivory tower because they’d offered him a lengthy, ego-stroking solo. Jack had been drinking champagne in bed when he had arrived, the man who took his family away. He’d been safe and warm when their eyes went dark. Now his heart stayed locked in bitter ice as the music began to rise, reclaiming some of its lost fierce quality, and he welcomed what came next.
The disparate notes coalesced into a central theme, a repeating pattern of glorying highs and grotesque lows. These grew in number and strength, dragging down the song into a dirge of broken souls. Jack reveled in the despair, matching it with his own, and could see it begin to work its change. In the corner of his vision the stool began to fall apart, its component atoms disentangling to fall away as barely visible dust. All around him entropy was given free reign, exponentially increasing as fine particles swirled upon the breeze.
Jack almost missed a note as the wall beside him collapsed inwards, but never stumbled as his violin poured forth all the atrocities of man. Soon the sky was visible between latticed steel, and though the winter wind cut down upon him Jack felt none of its sharpened bite, his eyes blazing with the madness of grief. Already the building crumbled as he saw before him bloody fields and poisoned skies, camps of death and clouds of decimation. He would do it, he would end all of the suffering that had occurred or ever would, he would put an end to pain and leave this world as the serene nothing from which it was formed.
As blood-red rust rained down upon him the roaring wind tore the page away to reveal another. Without a thought Jack leapt into its melody, but did not recognize its tune. It struck him odd, he could not have missed a page. Night after night he had poured over every stanza, every note, there was none of it he did not know as intimately as a lover. Yet here it was before him, and from his strings soared forth its song.
It was an antithesis to his self-righteous fury, a soothing balm to the pain within. It was hope in the darkness, generosity in need, tender care to the sick and the frightened. In those gentle sounds Jack saw his wife’s bright eyes, heard his son’s sleeping breath, and they were with him still. These parts of his world that had been torn away were returned by memory, held by thought, and if he had cried before, Jack could hardly see for weeping now. The layered hate around his heart fell away before the onslaught of a love both pure and sweet, casting him to his knees as he reached the page’s end.
In a ring of desolation where once a building stood, a man knelt in the gathered dust. An errant breeze stirred the page before him, and hummed along strings gone silent. The December chill made mist of his breath and froze his tears upon the ground. He’d played The Song To End The World.
But left the final note unspoken.
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