Wednesday, October 19, 2011

#43 -- The Organ

"Everything was terrible and none of it was true."

A lot was said in that shortened minute and the problem was that the Organist couldn't hear what the whispering men were saying further up ahead. Then again, if he had, he was sure that they would have stopped him, and everybody else, all just to talk to him alone. No, the whispering men stayed in their invisible voices, looking back at the Organist and carrying on with their conversation as they led the tramp party onward, parting the wire-branches that reached and bent at their arms and legs. They had begun their walk what he estimated was a few miles back inside the hollowed-out crater that harbored their boats and their road had been smooth the entire way with packed mud that left no tracks. The line kept in single-file, two prisoners, then one of the whispering guards, two more prisoners, then so on in the same order. Hungry and weakened, nobody tried to run, even though they weren't bound in any manner to speak of. Their restraints were much simpler. The sky-red rocks reminded the Organist where he was and the air he was breathing would no doubt hold him back, hardening his lungs like treated horse-hair. The oxygen was too hot, he knew he couldn't escape, not right now, and the whispering men hadn't talked to him yet and he wanted to keep it that way.

Caged wasn't where he wanted to be but it was where he needed to be. He needed time. It was the only resource he had and he wasn't going to give up that advantage up by making enemies. He wasn't going to give up anything. He needed time and answers. He would be ready and he would fight at a moment of his own choosing.

At the end of the path, they came to the ledge that overlooked the shallow valley, an expansive view accommodating a lazy, fatigued mind, drawing focus away from the darker edges down to the dominant, shaking white structure at the center. The rest stared and the Organist immediately tilted his face away and put it in the corner of his eye, not turning his back, but not looking. Even at his vision's edge, he saw that hulking, repugnant thing had rhythm, expanding, growing out, then it shrank back into itself, contracting, and that made the Organist think that surely he was either imagining things or that the building was, in a way, breathing, and when he thought this, he looked cautiously to the structure's incomplete foundation. People were at its base, working. The buildings on the valley's edge were dark and they were covered with thin, semi-black ash. These low-buildings were only two stories but there were gargantuan tubes or vents of some kind that were much taller all along the surrounding rim and they stood silent, their sources traceable back to the valley's center. They were made of metal and they shook harder and more visibly the closer they came to the white structure. All of them fed back to the middle.

A whispering man motioned to one of the prisoners. After a hesitant moment, the prisoner tilted forward, waited a second or two, maybe hoping to no avail that the suggestion would become a verbal demand, and he complied at last and walked forward and he was told something when they took him aside. The Organist scraped his fingernail on the pen in his pocket while he watched this man whisper in the prisoner's ear. When they were done, the prisoner faced the rest of them, mouth partway open so it looked like he might talk. There was a complete disconnect between what he wanted to say and what he had to say.

He gulped air first and his mouth hung even after he'd stopped breathing. It looked like he was in a little bit of pain and his skin started to crack and his lips had begun to bleed.

There was a semi-conscious moment and in a tightened, quiet voice, the man said, "You will build the organ." And then, slowly, but with no caution, he began taking steps backwards away from the rest of them. The whispering men watched them all watch him. 

The prisoner would not look over his shoulder. He wasn't allowed. His face was pointed straight at the Organist when his heel caught on the ledge's edge, his soul snatching back his eyes and his heart for a final second to say a hurried goodbye and he was gone. The Organist held back, watched him fall right back with a torn half-yell, the first audible noise in ages was all gone so suddenly and right then, more than anything, the Organist forced himself not to exhale too quickly. It made his body shake a little and his mouth filled with spit. 

Don't do it. Keep your body still. 

Then, as always, he was trying to avoid the whispering men's attention.

Time went. The top of every day meant that the whispering men would bring them from the low-buildings that were made from brittle wood and mud and they would bring them to where they would work. The labor would last until they were told it was done and they would be returned without warning back to the low-buildings in the valley perimeter. A blind young man lived in the valley and his window faced the building that the Organist was placed into, so they would talk when they could, which wasn't very often. The blind young man was a good storyteller, a nice change from the others, who would rarely say anything at all, and the Organist felt it was better to keep talking than to remain quiet, even in a place like this, even in a place that thrived on quiet.

"What's your name then?" the blind young man asked when they first met.

"Me? That's an easy question. Like everybody else around here, my name is Nobody," the Organist said. "Just, Nobody. For now. For a while, I suppose."

"Clever," the blind young man chuckled, knowing the lie's origin, and not caring, he asked, "So does that make me Polyphemus?"

"Only if I was the one that blinded you."

Time was difficult for the Organist to follow. When the minutes were in a row, things felt alright, but when he thought about things later, trying to remember what that happened, how he had gotten from just over there to right here, the minutes felt shortened. The sun hung in one corner of the sky and it stayed there at all times and there was no night, just times when they were told to work and times when they were allowed to rest and they could talk, if they did so quietly. Curiosity eventually got the better of him and the Organist asked Polyphemus why he thought the sun was like that here.

Polyphemus placed his hand inside the Organist's mind in response and pressed on a part of his brain that wasn't familiar and he said in his paced, gradual cadence:

"Listen to me closely. Listen and understand, if you would. In the universe, there is only one thing that needs to happen. 

"Once, the center of the universe flung creation outward when it realized its energy had become dead. Light reached out as far as it could, slowly. This dead energy, once part of the center, which is called the Arc, needed to gather itself back up. Matter and creation strengthens itself.

"Energy needs purpose. Dead energy creates a void. The Arc spins the energy in and out, this is the only thing that needs to happen, Nobody.

"In this place, this valley, there is a precise focal point through which a particular DNA code can focus a particular audio frequency pattern, and that will be the signal to the Arc that the universe is ready, that the energy is no longer dead. A certain member of the human species, on this one planet, reciting a certain sound may seem random, but it only seems random if you aren't looking for it or if you don't have time to look. Don't be surprised that this just happened to be possible on a planet as significant as ours, or that the circumstances happen to be as specific as sound and deoxyribonucleic acid -- just a macromolecule holding together some chromosomes, really. This planet is both vital and insignificant, just as the right sounds and the right chemistry are both useful and inconsequential in the entirety of the universe. It isn't good timing, or fate, or coincidence, it's chance -- a mighty chance. A million-million galaxies have come close to satisfying the exact conditions across spans of time insignificant to the human mind and chaos exists to give energy the time it needs.

"Out here, in the expanse, there are pieces.

"Out here, in the expanse, the energy is cycling, restoring itself, creating life, creating chaos, and waiting to be breathed and if you believe this, then listen closely, Nobody, perhaps you'll be surprised, and if not, you can always go back. You can always go back.

"There is no way to tell if the Arc understands life. Life's significance is different to each entity, each person that stands beside it. The Arc can't see life the way a human does, but that does not mean the Arc is wiser simply because it thinks slower and it does not mean the Arc is greater because it lives longer. Necessity changes but it can always be proven true. What is necessary is the identification and endurance of understanding the energy that makes the life beside you significant.

"Those that upset your ability to identify value are themselves either incapable or afraid to place values themselves. What is happening here is happening to you, Nobody. You are not deaf though, nor are you mute. If you are focused and confident and fearless -- and these are not things that you can enact upon yourself by a force of will, but rather intangibles crafted by memory and time and places -- then this one place, this terrible valley, they will be the days that pour energy into you. You must have the strength to see and the strength to understand.

"You can always go back. You can always go back to fear and indifference, Nobody. Or you can live -- and take it all in, why don't you?"

The Organist lowered himself down and slept on the floor in the dust. 

"If you want to escape this place," Polyphemus remarked to the Organist the next day, "You will have to go to that structure they're building at the center."

"If I wanted to escape this place, I'd starve myself to death and die," the Organist retorted. "No, when I leave this place, I doubt it will be because I want to or when I want to. But if I'm going to live long enough for that to happen, things are going to need to change, my friend."

Knowing that his work was done, Polyphemus' voice followed his eyes, and words left him altogether a day or two later, all to the pleasure of the whispering men who abhorred the noises. Gone but hardly lost. It was the Organist who was given a new voice and he began to fight with the whispering men whenever he had the chance, knowing that his friend had become silent for a reason and he would not abide dishonor against his wisdom. There was no compulsion in him to play it quiet anymore. These confrontations were few at first and then increased in frequency. The whispering men were usually too many and the Organist was not armed, unless if he managed to lay his hands on a rock or mortar brick and he was able to sometimes, occasionally drawing blood on them, his own blood being drawn was a given. In the muddy hole they threw him in, down below the reach of light and sound, the Organist continued to listen and continued to live.

Everything was terrible and none of it was true. 

The time continued to go and he began to believe that not all of the whispering men were content. Once, after the Organist had spent lengthened hours in the hole, he saved one of them from slipping in. The edges had been slippery. He could have let him fall, the hole was down below the reach of light and sound, but he didn't, he caught his arm without hesitating. The whispering man was thankful and on his next visit after getting another fight, the Organist cajoled some words out of him.

The whispering man's words were, "Well, why do you think we're here?" and he said then in a normal tone. "For many years, I believed it was because we were building the structure to please the King. I don't believe that anymore. That isn't the real reason. We're here to be punished. All of us. Look at how we whispering men punish you. We do it because the whispering men punished us when we were your age." 

The Organist nodded, understanding in an instant. "Has it always been bad? Was it ever good?" 

"It's worse than you think," he went on. "Somehow, in this place, the most hurtful things gravitate towards specific people -- the things that will hurt you the most find you. We look for them ourselves. They find us. We accept it -- that they're there. Here, weaknesses are discovered and drawn up. You've seen some people be starved. That is what hurts them the most. Some are abused physically. To them, there is no greater shame to them than to be beaten. Others are attacked mentally or emotionally because that is how they are most fragile. I've taken eyes and I've taken tongues and broken bones and spirits. Everything here happens for a reason and everything is always happening, no matter how chaotic it may seem. It is all arranged, all prepared, all exacted, all that is given will be twisted away. We want it. If we stopped, this place would die and all the hurt up until now would be for nothing, and the King wouldn't have his aria."

"The aria. Do you know where the aria comes from?"

"It comes from the arrangement. The single sound, the aria, will be sung in the structure, in this opera house, when it is completed. That is its purpose." The whispering man pointed to the tubes and vents that ran from the white structure, out to every corner of the valley and up, towering high and releasing visible, hot air jets. "At the right time, the opera house and the Organ will be assembled and the King will release the Soprano who will sing the aria exactly as it must be sung and then we will be done here."

"Where can I find the Soprano?" the Organist asked right away.

The whispering man smiled. "Every twenty-three hours, the Soprano is given one to wander the streets and then is forced back. I don't know what the Soprano looks like, nobody does, but if you were to look, I believe you could get lucky."

"Perfect. I'll just make sure I remember to look. And to get lucky." 

"Remember to breathe," the whispering man reminded and it made the Organist stop to think for a second, which gave the man the chance to add, "Just remember. Now that you're looking, now that you've gotten these ideas into your head about why you're here and why things are like this here -- you're going to start noticing things. You'll start seeing nothing. Or you might start feeling suspicion. The universe is smaller than you realize. It's closer than you realize."

The Organist considered the whispering man's advice for about five minutes and then left, walking in long strides and quarter-thoughts until it started to rain and he was forced to seek shelter. This might give him trouble. The water was hurled down to the ground and it came with wind and lightning that pranced and barbed the sky, faster and brighter than anything he'd ever seen, all of it veiling the hard-yellow sun and replacing it with shocking flashes, exchanging black with white and back again. There was no thunder, just rolling images clipping the visible to the invisible. They came together and then came apart. The air changed and control was loosening. It was losing to the chaos.

There were things to consider. The weather brought calamity and nobody noticed him moving with ease about the muddying paths between the buildings. The idea was clear in his head: find the Soprano, find the King, find sense. That was the answer. It was easy, a calm hand ushering him, lightening his steps, spiting his weighted clothes. So why this rotten feeling?

New life moved him and he used the energy. He found traction, even in the muck, deciding to sprint right past the other workers, now suddenly forming more images and what the King might really look like. The Soprano would be able to show him the way. Water poured off of the rooftops in heavy streams. He stutter-stepped and helped a fallen man back to his feet. The Organist placed his hand against a wall for balance. Then, he felt the building inhale and then breathe out. He wanted to take his hand off of it immediately. This metal tube was shaking with an inhuman noise and something was rushing through it in long bursts. Far off, his eyes were drawn to the venting-towers that lined the valley perimeter, groaning, releasing a blurred mixture that had to be air, electricity, and sounds. 

"Don't worry," the Organist tried to assure the man as he carried on. "Goddamn, what's happening now?" 

The storm must have come from some weird and distant maelstrom, he assured himself, it was all too immediate and suspicious. And then he heard the man say something soft as he hurried on. The Organist's throat flickered. A corner of his mind was struck, turning his thoughts blunt, making him lose focus. Instead of remembering what he was supposed to do, as clear as it was before, all he could think of was what the man might have said -- the warning, or the advice, or the condemnation. It became stranger, even as he moved away, the soft words stayed in the Organist's ear, right with him, ringing, even audible inside the storm. The wind picked up then and the soft words did too and it wasn't just the man he'd helped that was whispering now. The Organist realized the words were there in the wind and in the weather and in the world, speaking just out of reach and when he lowered himself closer to the sopping ground to try to catch them, they became a wobbling murmur wandering between definitions and he felt the blood pound in his temples.

It pushed down and he needed to know. He couldn't black out and he demanded the simple task from his body, to merely maintain then and there, standing at the base of the structure, the very Organ itself, a dozen steps leading up to the center of it all and he began to drag himself onward, forgetting his senses and becoming thoughtless. One step, then the next. The Organ rumbled in anger at him and now he was looking right at it. It was a furious thing that struggled under its own girth, heavy columns trembling to keep themselves up beneath the storm's gathering strength, belched grease and disgusting noises that had never been music.

"Objections?" he shouted up at it. "Or is this just for show?" The stones that the Organ had been built from vibrated, rolling in and out with busted, foamed wind and down below its chipped mortar was strained, glossy guts that kept getting redder. Blood and rock dripped from high places, breath speeding up. It reached for air and exhaled a drowning, rippling roar below what nature can make and it closed, vicing tighter onto his throat. The Organist steadied and made himself stand and he ordered himself to move. And he ordered himself to look this time. The grotesquery churned in front of him, always moving, sometimes seeming to reach for him, never making a complete effort though and it stayed put, the way buildings do -- so all it could do was roar louder and louder. 

The roar went on unheeded. Wet dust was discharged from the cracks in the foundation and coagulated at his feet. 

He demanded of himself again. Gather your thoughts. Focus and understand. Nobody attempted to stop him. The other workers had run when they saw the whipping torrent descend. Whispering men pulled closer to one another on steps' edge, watching him and saying whatever they wanted, it had stopped mattering. 

He walked on. The King had to be near. He went to the top of the steps and he passed between the angular columns there, pushing open a small door with smooth hinges at the Organ's entrance. The sound surrounded in him but he could not hear it. Down the hall he went, electricity forking within the rain outside the ornate skylight overhead that somebody had taken a lifetime to build. 

He looked up at it in admiration. 

"No question," he said to himself. "Getting very close." He started to gather speed and moved into a sprint. One sound, a new sound, overpowered the rest, dominating the air. And then the aria reached him, riding the singular, clear voice. 

It burst out from the corridor's end, flinging open the doors to the sight -- a man at a table on a balcony over the massive theater that reached its end at a stage. 

The Soprano sang and the King sat. 

He was covered in flies and he looked quite deaf. The King extended his hand with an offer to the Organist, tea, in devilishly-designed silver cup -– their deep and swirling designs would have been more distracting if the Organist felt they held substance or a reason for being. From where he stood though, they were boasts; empty threats. On the balcony, he looked around and the dark reds and soaring ceiling and many of the ornaments around the table were designed with that deep airiness too. But there was no rhyme or reason. It was focused and it was purposeless.

"You know, I've thought about this kind of place," said the King. His voice felt close and it didn't echo much. "A lot went into it. A lot went into it and I was amazed it could ever exist. Never thought I'd see the day. It has everything, it had everything. The design, the stage, the colors, it was sort of like every turn in the halls was waxing poetic somehow, and all these seats here, rows and rows of them, it amazed me. I can barely count the things. The more I stay here though --" The Organist watched him think. "I was afraid to stop and look straight at it. All of it. Now, every time I do, I see this golden paint. It's distracting. Look outside. What am I saying? You just came from there, from the state of you. When I arrived, this was the only really good thing in the valley. This place is built to make you suspicious, keep you looking over your shoulder or out the corner of your eye. You won't see the truth on your first try though. This place feels desperate. I feel like if I looked at it funny, it'd fall apart. This place is getting old. I can't fix it."

The Organist sipped from the cup. "Tea. Intimidating," he remarked, speaking mostly to the thing in his hand. It felt flimsy and fragile to the touch. "But please. Don't even speak." The Organist held up a hand, not tensing and he kept facing down at the table and gradually raised his eyes to meet the King's as he spoke. "You don't possess a strong enough command of the English language to scare me --"

The Organist took one sip from his cup and stood. "Enjoy yourself," he said to the King. "If you can, please, enjoy yourself." The King's face was motionless and the Organist didn't think he had even noticed a word either of them had said. "Thought so."

It was a simple matter to circle down to the theater's main level and approach the stage. At a distance, he moved quickly. When he came closer, she forced him to slow. All of the empty seats watched the Soprano close on her final note and in all her beauty, she held him in place, and standing alone and still before her unfolding shadow, she accepted the light's adoration for a moment more and at last, she stepped to the front of the stage, toes curled over the edge.

-- Ghost Little
on Twitter  |  @GhostLittle_WTF

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