But in a secluded ballroom, a magnificent cavern whose history was lost in dust-covered apathy, where spirits roamed while malfunctioning ventilation spawned random tiny cyclones, there came a lilting melody. A melody of souls, hearts, and minds; of joy, grief, and fraternity. It sang from a corner of the room, rotting piano wire moaning an eternal crescendo exultant and frightening.
The man behind the keys was aged indeterminately; this from either years of rejuviplasty and his own impish features, or something far stranger. Wearing tattered garments greyer than the dusty linoleum, he had spindly fingers that were muscled and veined; twin five-legged spiders dancing across checkered peaks and valleys.
The child, a girl of seventeen, wandered lost into the ballroom. A waif like the musician, her life consisted of day-to-day struggles giving little reward and scarcely feeding her starved frame. Chocolate pools of lost dreams and indifference were trapped behind eyelids set in a face wrinkled with premature age, giving her a maturity alluring and disturbing.
She crept closer to the man at the piano, heart thudding. Finding a chair some meters back, her form silhouetted by incalculable stars, she sat with legs wrapped around the backrest, toothpick arms supporting a bobble-head with a mane of crimson trailing down her back.
The crescendo reached a climax and abruptly ceased. The pianist straightened, smoothed locks of colorless hair from his cherub face, and said without looking behind him: “Why are you here?”
She was startled: “Er…music?”
“I know that. How’d you come here?”
“Yes, but where?”
“Everywhere—in the crèche, on the slidewalks, through the elevators nobody rides—”
“Really? Why are you the first to come?”
“In two hundred years,” said the man.
“Life is too concerned with things that don’t matter to care about those that do,” he caressed the piano’s keys. “Entertainment, politics…they forget about love, why the Maker gave man emotions and beauty in the first place;” his cherub face looked on her again, “so I’m not surprised no one’s come in two hundred years. What surprises me is…you’ve come.
“What were you playing?” Her voice quavered.
“One I created.”
“Anyone who will listen.”
“…you’d like to hear a song for you?”
“What do you want me to play?” He smiled congenially.
“I’m here to play for you, miss. It is my…function.”
Behind what she could now see wasn’t a grey garment but a vanilla suit covered in eons of dust, he uncoupled a panel. A screen beeped where a heart should be, gears spun, fluid pumped through a translucent sphere. She said: “I thought you were a man?”
“What’s a man; his chemistry, or his soul? I’m a man, alright. I have a soul that only took me two hundred years to find,” his grin faded, “and I’ll lose it soon, for lack of purpose.”
“To create magnificent music. I am a living jukebox, if you recognize such an obscure reference—”
“How come you talk like people do? You don’t sound like no robot.”
“I told you, I am a man. Music has given me my soul. A ghost in the machine are these songs I play, and through His gift of music I’m alive, inhabiting this body.” A sigh. “And for this reason, I must soon depart.”
“I don’t understand.”
“In this world there is no place for a thing like me. In this time individuals care for themselves, not for beauty, not for love, not for music,” he exhaled mechanically, the irony lost on the waif outlined against the stars. Then he perked up: “But I’ll play you a song, yes?”
She grinned: “Yes!”
So he played a song so magnificent she trembled, shivered, and wept. The music entranced the wind, made dust spin in eddies, made stars shine brighter and stole her soul beyond its body into ages past, where she imagined people in expensive tuxedos and gowns waltzing in time and holding each other close. The dance was intimate, regal, perfectly synchronized to the music; and as her mind beheld it, the eddies in the dust conformed themselves with that vision and to her great delight became a thousand couples adorned in multilayered garments whose color was the monotone grey of the very dust composing them. These spirits danced in harmonized splendor, and as the malfunctioning ventilation spun the apparitions, the music reached a climax, then slowly died. The waltzing spirits crumbled into piles about the room, and she said almost regretfully: “It was beautiful…”
“Play it again?”
“This would be an abomination,” he smiled, walking from the piano. He came to her, and bending down on the chair he looked her in the eye: “I’ll always play for those who listen. Music is God’s language, which has awakened me, and now you. So...spread the renaissance.” He took her chin gently between his thumb and forefinger, smiled again. Then he turned, fading into the shadows; becoming one with the inky silhouettes of a bygone era that defined the Stellar Ballroom.
She wanted to follow, but could not.
Then like a glitter in her mind’s eye, an idea crept at her and she looked at the piano. And sitting down, she struck a note. LS