Eine kleine Nachtmusik

The young man had a reputation in Newdean for an undefinable oddness, an aura of peculiarity. He would sometimes be seen walking the streets at night, singing strange songs and making bizarre gestures, as if he were conducting an invisible orchestra. The first, and only, time I saw him, he fascinated me. It was in The Crown, the more pleasant of the two pubs in Newdean, but not by much. He sat alone in a corner, a ring of empty pint glasses sitting on the table before him.
I ventured over, introduced myself.

‘Mind if I join you?’

He shrugged, pushed a stool out with his foot.

He was tall, gangly, pale, dressed entirely in black. I didn’t know what it was about him that drew my attention, but I couldn’t look away from him. He oozed mystery like a palpable substance. He was taciturn; economic and precise with his words.

I asked him what he did.

‘Nothing much. Some music.’

‘That’s interesting. What kind of music?’

‘Music from my dreams.’

‘Your dreams? So, you dream of a tune, and then play it?’

‘Something like that. You want to hear it?’

I nodded, with genuine enthusiasm, though mostly at the prospect of being alone with him. We finished our drinks and left the pub.

He lived only a few minutes from The Crown, in a flat overlooking the sea. Despite the persistent growl of traffic on the main road, the view was one of the best in town, especially at sunset. The sea was blessed with crimson light, and the sight of the sun’s descent was unobstructed. The flat was sparse, clean, clinical. It was more like a hospital than a home.

‘Do you have many visitors?’ I asked.

‘Not really.’ 

He lived alone, an inheritance from his late mother meaning he didn’t have to work. He explored different projects of his choice, though, he said, it was always music that occupied him most intently. He told me to sit on the sofa in the spartan living room while he went and got something. He came back with a large, black case. He set it aside, then went into the kitchen, and came out with a stool. He placed this directly in front of me.

He opened the case, and took out an instrument that looked like it was made from tinted glass, or smoky quartz. It was the shape of a French horn, but instead of pipes and valves, it seemed to have thin, glass strings. He sat on a stool, pulled his feet up from the floor, so he looked like a bird on a perch. He cradled the instrument, and ran his fingers lightly over the strings, producing a metallic sounding buzz which resounded around the room.

‘I made this myself’, he said, quietly. ‘The idea came in a dream. Just… knew how to make it, and how to play it.’

He cleared his throat slightly, then looked me straight in the eye, with all the coldness of a mountain peak. ‘This is my night-music.’

He began to move his fingers up and down the strings, rhythmically. A sound built with glacial slowness. Layer after layer of reverberation was added to it, aural sedimentation, fashioning a sonic structure with precision and patience. The sounds moved around the room, rising and falling like pistons, delivering impressions of blistering heat and the iciest of coldness. The sounds transmitted images and impressions of deep, dark space, studded with the laser-brilliance of distant stars; the feeling of walking down an abandoned highway at night; the blind, crushing solitude of the ocean floor; the stillness at the heart of things.

His movements over the strings changed, became less regular, more chaotic, even violent. Blood dripped from his fingertips. Empires of tone rose with splendour and crashed with decadence. A fortress of harmony was dashed as soon as it was completed. From his throat now rose a keening wail, a mewling roar, reinforcing and undermining the music from his crystal instrument, nebulous as smoke, yet as hard as iron.

The crescendo came after an eternity of build-up, rising like a tsunami. It exploded with invisible light, and I cried out with terror as it did so.

And then there was silence, a silence as deep and profound as a crypt. The young man looked exhausted. His hands and his instruments were covered with blood. I felt sick, exhilarated, broken. My face was damp with sweat and tears.

‘Thank you’, I whispered.

Since then, every night, I dream of that young man and his crystal instrument, of the great, awesome, excruciating sights he communicated to me. But after that night, I never saw him again in the flesh. It was as if, with the inaugural performance of this transcendental symphony-of-one, his task was complete, and he simply vanished.

The dreams have been passed on.


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