Monday, January 18, 2010

The Violinist (and the Luthier): Part I

A girl stumbled across a bedroom floor fleeing from a pair of red eyes that flashed in the darkness. She raced into the hallway carrying a violin case. A dark figure followed her quickly. Light spilled into the hall from a doorway on the right. The girl ran toward the light into the kitchen. On the other end of the room were doors to the outside. As she reached them, she turned and looked back. A man was standing at the other end of the kitchen, dressed only in shorts. From head to toe he was covered in dark tattoos that swirled and collided in what looked like a thoroughly evil and hate-filled pattern. His eyes were glowing with the same hatred and fire that exuded from the tattoos. In his hand he held a strange looking device. On seeing it, the girl's eyes widened and she turned and ran out the door. When she thought she was far enough away, she glanced back. At first she saw the large house she had just emerged from, but then there was a bright flash, and a noise like an explosion, and then the house was gone, with only its foundation left behind. The girl looked like she was about to cry, but then she turned resolutely away and walked off into the night.

* * *

Oscar stood at the bus stop, his violin case slung over his back. He looked down the road for the bus, anxious about his audition coming up. He shouldn't be worried, he told himself. After all, he had been playing violin since he was four, picking out melodies of songs like "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and "Old McDonald." By the time he was eight, he had won several national contests. His early teens were spent obsessing over the instrument, sometimes practicing several hours a day, learning a new piece every day as well as composing his own songs. And now, as high school graduation was approaching, colleges and universities were clamoring to get him to come to their school.

The bus finally arrived at the bus stop. Oscar stepped on board and started to hand the driver some money.

"No cash, passes only," said the driver in a monotone.

Oscar looked at him surprised. "What?"

"Sorry, new policy, we don't accept cash anymore. You have to go buy your pass at a kiosk."

"But I really need this bus! The next one doesn't come for a half hour!"

The driver looked annoyed. "I'm sorry, sir. You'll have to step off, please."

Oscar thought quickly. "Wait, sir. I am really good on the violin. Let me just play a song for you." Oscar took the case off his back and fumbled for the latches. "The moment you don't like it, or get annoyed with me, just stop the bus and I'll get off."

Oscar didn't wait for an answer from the incredulous bus driver, but whisked the instrument up to his chin and started playing something he had made up a few days ago. The driver shrugged and started the bus.

Oscar started with a low note that hung in the air like a question. Then the melody began, stilling the atmosphere with a chilling mystery. The bus made a stop, and several people got on. Oscar continued to play, and the riders on the bus at first tried to look out the windows or read their books, but soon it became impossible, and one by one they began staring at Oscar, hanging on every note he played. The bus made several stops, and more people got on, but no one got off. Oscar's melody raced furiously toward a climax. Everyone sat on the edge of their seats. The bus made several more stops, but no one could leave their seats. Suddenly the melody changed, flowing out of the mystery from the beginning, yet resolving it, and the listening ears felt they now comprehended some deep, strange knowledge. Then just as suddenly as it began, it ended. Oscar put the violin back in its case and slung it over his shoulder. The bus stopped, he gave a quick bow, then hopped off onto the sidewalk.

Everyone stirred as if waking from a dream. Some realized they had missed their stops far behind. Most didn't care. One girl opened her eyes when she realized it was over, jumped up and ran to the front of the bus just as it was starting to move.

"Wait! This is my stop!"

The bus driver looked very annoyed, but he stopped for her and opened the door. The girl muttered an apology and jumped off. She also was carrying a violin case. She spotted Oscar walking away from the stop and ran toward him.

"Hey! Violin guy!" she shouted.

Oscar turned around surprised.

"Look," she started when she caught up to him, "I've never heard music like that before, and I think you're the one."

"The one?" asked Oscar. "What does that mean?"

"Look, um, what's your name?"

"I'm Oscar."

"Hi. I'm Abby. Oscar, I have a problem. I think you can help me, though."

She paused, unsure of herself. "Look, maybe it would be better if you saw this first. I have something for you, if you agree to help me."

She shook her head as she took the violin case and started opening it up. "You know what? If you won't do it for me, I don't believe anyone can. So you can have it, whether or not you help me."

She lifted the case's cover to reveal the most beautiful violin Oscar had ever seen.

"Go ahead. Play it. It's yours."

Oscar carefully picked up the violin. He raised it to his chin, took the bow in his hand and placed it on the strings. He played a short note on the A string. Immediately he knew there was something different about this violin. The strings didn't just resonate in the wood; he felt it in himself, in the sidewalk beneath him and in the air around him. Several people glanced over toward him, and he knew they were affected too. He looked back at Abby questioningly.

Abby smiled at him. "See? I knew you'd feel it. Several people have tried to play it, but either nothing has come out, or they didn't hear it."

"What is this violin?" Oscar asked. "I heard something. This is—this isn't a normal violin. Or if it is, I've been playing on trash."

Abby looked around conspiratorially. She grabbed his arm and lead him to a nearby bench. They sat down and Abby looked intensely at Oscar.

"Listen Oscar," she said, staring into his eyes so that he felt not a little uncomfortable, "I make things. I'm really, really good at making things, because I understand them. I mostly make instruments, but I've made knives, chairs, candles. But instruments are really my thing: pianos, flutes, oboes, and, of course, violins. I made this violin, and it's the best thing I ever made."

She sighed and sat back, closing her eyes. "It was definitely my masterpiece. I worked on it a week without eating or sleeping. The wood I used had been aging in my parents' house since I was born—"

"How long ago was that?" Oscar interrupted.

Abby opened her eyes and glared at him. "Long enough. Almost seventeen years. Anyways, as I was saying, It was wood from my birth year, so I knew this stuff, and it knew me, and together we learned about the world around us—"

Oscar interrupted again. "Sorry. 'Us' being you and the wood?"

Abby flashed her eyes at him. "Yes. Look. Did you or did you not feel something special about this violin?" Without waiting for his response she went on, "She's one with the world around her. A person who played her right could do anything, if he but found the right melody, with just the right nuances, played at just the right time."

Oscar cocked his head. "What do you mean, do anything? Do what?"

She leaned forward excitedly. "Anything, Oscar! You could force people do whatever you want! You could make people fall in love with you. You could move objects, unlock doors, walk through fire, find lost things. I don't know what all you could do. You'll have to find out! And Oscar, I think you're the only one who can wield this instrument. To anyone else, it's just a violin, though maybe the most beautiful one they've ever heard."

His eyes widened. "And you're just going to give this to me?"

Abby leaned back on the bench. "Well, I can't play it all that well. But if you take it, I would like your help with something."

"You're giving me something priceless. How can I refuse?"

"Don't take this lightly, Oscar. It's going to be dangerous. And we need to do this right now. So, just forget about whatever you were about to do."

Oscar thought about this, but made up his mind quickly. He got down on his knees, held up the violin in its case and looked earnestly into Abby's eyes. "Abby," he said, "I accept your honorable gift of this violin, and request that you would honor me in return by letting me help you with whatever you need right now. Consider it my payment."

Abby smiled. "Very old school, and sweet. I accept your offer."

Oscar stood up and smiled grimly. "So what is it you want me to do?"

Abby stood up, and they began walking. "I told you I make things. Well, my things—and my home—and I think my parents in it—have been stolen."

Oscar frowned. "How does one go about stealing a house?"

"My parents make things too. I'm the expert in musical stuff, but they make all sorts of things. Just believe me. They made something that could conceivably move mountains. So my house is gone, stolen. What we need to do is find my house."

"And how do you propose we go about that?"

Abby stopped walking. "The violin will lead us to it."

Oscar stopped walking too. "Really? How?"

"I don't know. You're the one that's going to have to find the right melody."

Oscar was feeling a bit more doubtful about the more magical qualities of this violin. He was also not sure he believed that Abby's house had been stolen. But he took out the violin again, and decided to at least humor her. He placed the violin on his chin, and picked up the bow. He played a down stroke on the open A string, then up on the G string, followed by more random notes.

"Stop, stop!" The world seemed to be spinning around Oscar, so he obeyed Abby and took the violin away from his chin.

Abby closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She opened them and said, "Okay, I'm sorry. I didn't explain anything. It won't just happen automatically. You should probably start with a song you already know. Something that's—like searching. Then think about me, and play something like where you think I would live. Once you get going, it should come easier. Just—think about what you play first. Does that make sense?"

Oscar shook his head. "Not really."

She sighed. "Look, the sounds that come out of that violin are more than just sounds. They're—real, they're reality itself. If you play something that sounds like searching, the violin will start searching. Savvy?"

"No, but I'll give it a try." Oscar closed his eyes and put the violin to his chin again. This time he thought of a melody he had come up with a few months ago that started with a desperate series of scales and trills. He began playing, and looked at Abby. At once something else filled in the edges of the first melody, something that was distinctly Abby-like. He smiled and played louder. Abby felt dazed by the music, it was so beautiful. But suddenly her mind snapped awake like she just remembered something important. She looked around. The city seemed to be dim and gray, but one street glowed brightly. She motioned to Oscar and they began running in that direction. His melody continued to soar before them, guiding them in a direction they were sure was the right one. But soon they began to tire.

Then Oscar added a third aspect to the song. This one seemed to release energy all around them, and immediately they felt refreshed, and they ran even faster. They ran all that day, and into the night, and they did not grow tired as the world around them flew by, blurring together until all they could see was a glow in front of them, leading them onward toward the unknown.


  1. Very interesting! I'll wait to read the rest before giving a final verdict. :)

  2. "I mostly make instruments, but I've made knives, chairs, candles. And instruments, especially instruments:" to me this sounds a bit awkward. It's like 'I make instruments and other things and intruments'. You know what I mean?
    -This is Alex P.