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A Concerto and Fugue

A Concerto and Fugue
by Amy Holt

A drop of blood slides across the wood; a full day later and still Angela bleeds. She hides the deformity behind her back. They nod and let her pass. She’s so young; they suspect. But she’s here, isn’t she? No one is who doesn’t know about this place, the whys and whats of its workings.

Mr. Humphrey stands to take his turn on the platform stage. Absently, he rubs the sideboard of his wooden doppelganger. He arranges his frail bones and slipshod tendons in the performance chair and, after a sigh, begins.

The instrument shop is six rooms long—lobby, strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion and keys, and the office at the tail. The Saturday concerts take place in the woodwind room, the third room. Flutes, piccolos, and clarinets are cleared in favor of twenty chairs on maestro-red carpet lit by chandeliers reflecting off brass and lacquer and balding heads. Those who don’t arrive early enough are forced to stand as each gets his chance to play, to tempt fate, to dance the dance of consumption while others are present to save him.

Humphrey waltzes with his insentient lover. Together they string low and textured notes through the air, which fall as seconds pass, tumbling toward the ground like silken eels sicced to slide up trouser legs and coil around spider-veined ankles. The melodies massage, woo, coax listeners into a stupor, which is why they come.

Angela stares at the crumbling, ruinous bodies about her. All here are old, inches from the cliffs of mortality. They've lived, earned the stripes and medals of age—hair that will not sit down, bones that will not cease to lean, muscles that will not stretch. And in this, at last, they've abandoned fame in studios, orchestras, and outdated jazz quartets.

Time has secured the turn of their sails, brought them here to this shop at the foothills of a rogue thearchy, to this geisha house of wooden bodies, long necks, supple lips, wide mouths piping out pleasure. But this kind of pleasure has rules.

Mr. Humphrey will stop soon.

Ten minutes is the maximum allowed. Beyond that is danger. The strings of his twin would pull themselves free, pierce his arms, and slide up the blue veins that showed there. The bow would extend, swallow, swallow, join with bone, dig, dig, into marrow. The scroll would grip the back of his head and curl, curl, until the paramour wrapped itself around his body to penetrate his flesh for good.

A man acknowledges Angela from the corner of his eye. Blake. Angela owns pastures and manors of affection for his eyes. She compares their vibration to the first song she learned to bow written in a minor key—a nocturne. He is forty, twenty years her senior, but he told her the truth, gave her the means.

He nods, just the slightest. He is in the chair next to the shop owner, Mr. Flannerson, and his wife, Rose. Blake knows what Angela is here to do. He tried it once, and the piano took his legs. So he is in a wheelchair, and hasn’t the strength to try it again. But she could. She is young, stronger than the rest, unafraid of death.

The neck of Angela’s violin is cemented into her left hand. The maple splintered as she played, then buried itself into her fingers and palm seeking the forbidden fruit of blood and ligament. She played too long, Flannerson would say and did try to warn, but Angela knows he would be wrong; she didn’t play long enough, and that is what she came here to show. If only the instrumentalists would believe, if only they’d play the instruments, their likenesses, long enough to see.

Angela hides her crime for now. If the others spy it, they will run.

Humphrey stops playing when the scroll begins to unfurl. He doesn’t gasp—it’s happened so many times—but winces at the thought of ceasing. If he had refused to conclude, or if his eyes had been closed, the others would have forced him, as Flannerson has forced many to cease as they practice in his shop day after day. He requires that they learn the edges, the borders of this fatal dance before he will let them take their others out into the world. Instrumentalists must complete fifty sessions prior to purchase, several signs read across the shop.

Angela has completed only two. After two, she stole her wooden self and replaced it with an old companion, the violin she used to strangle nightly, kick, crack as she tried to make it sound, growl, and scream how she wanted. She murdered ten before it. Ten broken bodies lay in a chest in her apartment since they’d failed to please her.

Mrs. Pleer steps up next. Her lover burns silver, a staff of mercury wavering in the air. Her nails are painted as her love, her hair plaited in a long braid of great and wide loops mimicking that of the one she caresses.

She wants to be like him, her, it. She thinks she can’t because its not the way of the world, but she is wrong. Coupling is the point. It has been the point ever since the thing breathed in the dust of her soul; she was his and he was hers.

Flannerson is wrong in making rules as to when and how. You cannot when and how love. Now, old as they are, Angela wonders how many would or will survive, if they even have the stay of hand to try.

And so Mr. Flannerson sees her, as she ponders their deaths, as she imagines their tissues penetrated with wood, metal, peg, and mouthpiece. He remembers as she imagines. He remembers when he first met the strange little flute in its glass case.

“Ah, I’m afraid you cannot open the case for examination,” the antique salesman had said long ago. “This would be a relatively blind sale. Very delicate, I’m afraid. The flute is made of bone, you see. Some have ventured it’s one of the oldest. The museums won’t buy because, like I said, it cannot be touched outside of the case. But I thought a buyer with an eye as good as yours would understand. Give it a second look. Perhaps.” The salesman clicked his tongue against his teeth and leaned an obtuse degree in his chair.

And there had been a sound behind that click, all through the air in the office that day, in fact. A song, a tune of oldest’s old. It took Flannerson into its arms, stroked him, shushed him into deepest daydreams. He saw a french horn that coiled, circled, and glinted like sunshine. It cast rays from itself, tuned to mimic the low murmurs of wind and thunder, higher to laugh with rain and tootle with gusts that shimmy between crevices and mountainous fissures. And the bell, its end, became an abyss of age, a mirror of youth. It would rob him of old bones, shrinking deltoids and femori. It would fill those wrinkles right up again, and then some, until he glistened with its gold, shone like aurous beams.

He purchased the flute then and there, because the phantom tune had arrived at the same time as its shaft and holes, and Flannerson didn’t dare risk losing that melody of revelation and reverie.

Angela nods politely to his spectacles, violin hand still out of view. She leans against the wall at the back of the room, attention on Mrs. Pleer as the rest. She looks calm, subdued. He will not try to oust her, not when her intentions are unclear. She robbed him, sure, but now he wants to be rid of her. He does not want to tell the others, to let them know it has gotten so far out of hand, that someone has found out who wants to change their ways.

Mrs. Pleer ends her tune.

These breaks in the program are treacherous. Pauses are when the old folk of the old instruments take quick looks around, waking from their delirium, and spy the girl with red lips and short chestnut hair curled like the flourishes of a cello or violin. What is she doing here? they ask themselves. Her youth makes them uncomfortable, the suppleness of her skin, the easy rise of her blush and nimbleness of her steps and turns.

She threatens them because they see it already, without Flannerson saying a word: She will not let them continue as they have been. They give their souls in shavings and talc meant to awaken their counterpart, but when the counterpart rises to join, they rip their bodies from its arms and leave the shavings behind. And so they are dying. The soul, the life, stays with the wood and string, and the human body rots, putrefies, molds over into a crusted rind of olden.

Will they live, Angela wonders again, when already so weak?

She does not know about the flute.

Rose hasn’t seen Angela yet. If she had, she would have gawked and gasped and told the truth right then and there: that a young one, one not wise to the ways of time, one who has not yet renounced her orchestra, one who has not paid the coin of failed hearing and stiff fingers, has taken her music mate already. She wants though she does not deserve; she plays too long and too hard; she will give in to the will of the instrument and be taken; she will seduce them all into death. Get out, Rose would scream, get out.

Rose and Flannerson are hunchbacked. Unlike Blake, who sought the taking but couldn’t bear it through its end, they stumbled upon their own consumption by accident.

The flute, you see.

The shop instruments started to change once the flute made home, thrum and pang and ping when no one was around. They grew layers of shine, disappeared their own scratches and cracks, refused certain fingers and invited certain others. And then there was that constant melody, unable to be trumped by rock or hip hop on the shop’s ceiling speakers.

The button keys of Flannerson’s horn began to suckle his fingers, the bell tried to coil round and look him in the eye. I’m getting too old, imagining things, he told himself.

And then, of course, they tempted into the flute case. They undid the latch, lifted the soundproof lid from the transparent casket. And the thing took breath. What came out was that song. The dreams spilled forth, instruments twisting into flesh and bone, glorious joining, fusing both foreign and familiar.

But dreams were different from reality that day.

Flannerson’s horn sprang to life two rooms over, and Rose’s double bass in the office with them. The horn blew and honked itself up, flying, dipping and bumping into walls, until it crashed into Flannerson’s spine and rooted past the skin. Rose’s cello opened its womb wide to bite Rose’s, then, much-younger shoulders and voluptuous curves. She screamed. Flannerson called out. But the osseous flute called higher, louder, splitting a sheath of air, penetrating a darkness no longer of this world, only remembered.

The case glass shattered. The two felt dying.

So Flannerson stooped best he could, scooped up the flute, and threw it into the green safe in the corner of the room and shut the door. It has been shut ever since.

The instruments stilled, though inside the safe away from their holes and arches the flute still sang, this demon flute from places of too much magic and power. The spruce and maple and brass stopped biting, but never fell loose.

Rose squirms against her bass. She wears a trench coat meant for someone three times her size just to cover the thing, and custom made skirts each day to cover its tail spike. Unremovable tumor, they tell people, not bone flute. They will never admit to the bone flute, the risk they put everyone in by keeping it.

The bass bites against her squirm. They can do that sometimes, the horn and bass, when they muster up the energy. They’ll flinch or shift along the humans’ unexpectedly healthy, open skins, make a soft groan in protest that the joining was ever ceased.

These two instruments listen to their brothers and sisters and hope, hope, that one will be an example and play themselves into the next. That, or for the flute to rouse from the safe again.

Mrs. Pleer finishes.

Blake’s turn. He wheels to the grand piano. Bits of blood will forever remain on the sides of the keys belonging to the two lowest octaves. Flannerson could never manage to get those scraped off after the paramedics left, confused, rushing to the hospital to save a man without two legs from the knees down.

But Blake was blissed then. Part of him had been taken, the part able to manage sustain, una corda, and sostenuto, and so that part remained, swallowed by a great whale into a stomach world of ivory cities and ebony bridges. Sunlight was sustain, raindrops staccato, laughter as high notes and danger as low ones. His legs knew what wonder was possible and whispered these things to Blake in dreams day and night.

The others cringe as he begins to play without legs to manage the three pedals, particularly Mr. Battston, the one standing beside Angela. He is a pianist too—the mahogany upright just four paces away.

Only Flannerson, Angela, and Rose know the truth of Blake’s loss. The others suspect it at three in the morning when they cannot fall asleep and begin to nightdream truths they knew halfly in day. They fear what he allowed to befall himself, as they've been taught to, but they desire too. They imagine the surrender. Their pulses quicken. Their breath shallows. They touch their own curves, searching for the curves they lust after. They crave.

They crave in this room too, snapping their eyes open to spy the ones they fancy in such unusual ways—these unusual instruments, so perfect, so like themselves. An oboe, a tuba or sitar.

Blake’s melody rushes into waterfalls of soprano keys, up and down, up and down. His fingers scurry, up and down, up and down. The notes roll, tumble, somersault round again. A deeper sound as his arm stretches to the lowers, circling, up and down, up and down.

Then it happens.

Blake's fingers begin to dip below the keys, or inside them, as if he plays the hammers and pins from some secret place out of view. The other woods and metals stand in attention; one goes and they itch to too. They want to play and dance and fuse. A key from the upright, an F in one of the octaves, strikes in harmony. A guitar plucks a D to concur. A saxophone warbles and a cymbal chatters its edges.

He is supposed to stop when these things begin.

Flannerson looks to Rose, Rose looks to Flannerson. Blake is not stopping. He is becoming, he is letting himself in and it inside him.

On his fingers, from first knuckle to tip, are black tattoos, meant to be the flat and sharp accidentals while the rest of his hands are meant to be the naturals. They’re indistinguishable now, dipping further into the instrument, probing, risking. Blake sees but does not stop.

Mr. Flannerson stands, back forced ever straight, and reaches out to touch Blake on the shoulder. Stop, the touch will warn, or I’ll make you. You cannot. You don’t know what you are doing, you do not know the death you ask.

Angela begins to play.

She wears a night shirt and sweater with her jeans, only because the shirt and sweater were what she was wearing when her twin first bit inside her hand and made dwelling there. A crimson scarf adorns her neck below the short curls at her chin, and on her feet are boots managed shut by teeth and five fingers.

“You will not,” Flannerson begins.

But it is too late.

The notes run through the air, leaping quick and sharp. She is master. She has found the one that does not disappoint, the one that will never need to be strangled or beaten to death on stage or in the dusky confines of her tainted apartment—the walls that heard the screeching, pealing subjects, the floors that cradled shards and disheveled strings once she had scorned them roughly.

This one will never be broken but of its own will and want. It has the slopes she’s always hungered for, the perfect blush of F-holes, hair of finest silver, skin of rubied brown. Down bow, up bow. Trills and vibrato. She silences them with her skill, with the passion that sweats from every line of her capsized expression.

Flannerson’s hand remains on Blake’s shoulder, and still Blake plays on and the keys begin to nip. Angela’s sweater sleeve slides past her knuckles.

And they see her hand, bloodied, marrow into wood and wood into bone. It cannot be salvaged; it will need to be severed, the shredded bits cut from the whole ones. And the violin. The violin is ruined, beyond the help of the finest luthier. Its neck has exploded, leaving deep chasms in the wood above and below. The creature looks wrinkled, oldest of the old, dying right there in her arms. The audience cringes, gasps, winces for Flannerson to act.

It’s gone past deserving or not. It is their youth, they think. The two are too young to have found the others of their pairs. Their minds aren’t bricked and mortared by life’s trials and sorrows to keep the instruments in check. The crazed things, though wondrous and perfect, have been given a freedom too vast against resolves so weak and reckless.

She continues to play. He continues to play.

Blake screams. The keys have taken his wrists, pushed their black and white throats up his nails and into his palms like albino snakes and their cult babies blackened with char. He groans. He tries to pound the keys that remain in their places, the lower registers, the sounds of danger and peril. The keys for laughter are fishing up his arms.

Angela’s melody turns minor. The chandelier crystals tinkle against it, trying to pull it major once more, but they lose this battle. Discord erupts, a concerto and fugue. A snare spits and a lute croons for the humans that have not found them yet. The lights flicker as Blake cries out again.

Flannerson grips him; the boy is elbow-deep. He plays the unseen—balance pins, guide pins, blocks, leads, hammers, and strings. The blood drips to the floor in rhythm with notes pouring from the lacquered boat and sail. Plip, plip, plip.

Angela is no different. The woods push. Her five minutes are up. But she refuses to cry, even as slivers worm through her muscles, zig up her veins. There is no distinction between arm and instrument. The pain strangles her throat. Her right hand trembles to stroke with the bow. The sound is afraid. She drops to her knees.

This is enough.

The others rise at last, to help the nameless girl as Flannerson helps Blake. Blake has stopped crying. His pain, also, is too great to bear a sound not from his instrument. Flannerson has managed him to the wall and Blake reaches, even as blood sputters and chokes from the stubs that are his arms. He wants to play. His hands, his legs, are in there somewhere.

Rose watches. She cannot believe the horror that has become of this innocent night. All because a young woman from the city orchestra stopped by to get a minuscular crack fixed on the neck of her old violin. But a new violin grabbed her that day—violin #7 in room #2, with a fleur de lis birthmark along its bottom edge and the string ends uncut and curly.

Rose looks at Angela. Angela looks back. She contorts and tremors, struggling against the floor. Blood has freckled her face and neck. The fingerboard is deep inside, the strings too, and she has turned deformed in a way Rose only witnessed in nightmares, a way she wondered that the instruments when demoned would do. But the bow keeps bowing in her right hand, though the others try to stop her with coos and shouts.

“You must stop this, woman,” a man says. “Do you not know the rules? You’ve played too long. Now you shall lose your hand.” He cries. His lips are dry and cracking, his hair vanishing with each puff of furnace air, his fingers sunspotted and pale from lack of blood flow. They shake in quick tempo as their tips brush against his pale lashes. He is dying from continual severing; he hasn’t the strength to attempt what she is doing.

Angela tears her gaze from their moribund bodies and lifts it to the flickering lamps and lights. They wink and blink in rhythm, though not to a rhythm she hears in the room. Angela listens. She closes her eyes.

Blake weeps for his love—his dark skin, his burly chest and dainty limbs, his musk of virgin forests and glittering elixirs. Angela knows he will die. She smells his blood, the sacrifice of his second attempt. He believed as she believed. He knew the things that were possible. But they cannot do it on their own. No one, no matter how young, could bear this pain in solitude.

“No,” Angela cries. She thinks of broken halves and cast off twins.

But that melody, it’s still there—a flute.

She hears the meek tune straining across the rooms, stringing itself from doorframe to doorframe. It mists and breathes across the squeals and arguments, so neglected and starved Angela scarcely believes its real. But it is, and she lets its airs into her lungs, heart, and muscles. Though she twitches and jerks, all she has to do is keep playing to wheedle the theme into shrieking a bit louder.

She stands. Her eyes glint crimson as strings lackadaisically pierce across her retinas. The violin’s notes quarrel, flat and out of tune from her blindness. She thrusts out her arm and bows against the pain, christening the rod in salt. Blood seeps into the wooden hollow. Louder, she manages, louder, louder. The chandeliers tremble and sway. Instruments cower, and people too. Lights go out against her patched will. But the flute stays true.

Angela heads for the back room. Rose strains to see through the dark. She’s heard the melody too. Her eyes widen when she spies the girl.

“Where are you going?” she yells. The violin song has risen even louder. The others cover their ears, strain against its vibration in their ribs and pelves.

“I must save him,” Angela whispers as metal coils around her vocal cords. The bow wraps her wrist, ready to sword inside.

Rose stands. The girl may die, Blake may perish, but not her. Her own death will not be allowed, no matter the wishes of demon flute and willful fool. The double bass wriggles and writhes. She grabs a saxophone and catches the girl, wheeling the J round and into her skull. She wrenches a handful of curls and whips the girl backwards onto the floor. But the curls are not all hair. Steel is in there, thin and sharp—strings.

Angela falters to her feet and screams at the woman, eyes fixed, pricks of bullion. And her scream does not sound a scream. It sounds as the highest quadruple of strings played at once, a primitive howl summoning a horde.

She bows up, she bows down. And against the monster notes the latch on Rose’s trench breaks open, the seams of her arms and backside fabric split. They separate. The trench falls to the floor in pieces and the secret is revealed to the rest who have been forced to be so careful—her spine, her back, her shoulder blades, an earthquake of flesh against the weight of an imploded contrabass. They see it move. Something calls it to life.

Another swing of the bow and Rose is catapulted through rooms four, three, two, one, and out the front windows into dark streets impressed by the spectacle of Flannerson’s deep and narrow array.

“How dare you try to change what we are?” Flannerson shouts. “Your soul has gone in too fast. It rules you, girl. You must stop now or you won’t survive!”

A wind rises. A gust blows her passion against theirs.

They stand and shush away tears and snot. It is her versus them, the reckless against the wise, the wild against the tried.

The flute whistles.

Those of the Instruments pick up others not their own—drumsticks, a tuba, an electric guitar, a handful of bows, a cornet, bells, and bagpipes. They raise them in the air and lunge forward to attack.

But Angela has the music, she has the joining. She and her doppleganger fuse, fizz against each other in pain and pleasure. The notes are more than notes. They are pendulums, knives, axes, and hammers. They are tempests and whirlwinds. They are light and shadow. Her bow grows molten, irradiating high fahrenheit and flashes of too-bright truth against all the lies they believe of themselves. She is a mighty one, one with a bow of light.

Angela whips a note against them. They bear their teeth to endure it. Glass shatters. Crystals fly from their rings and hinges. But they come. Flannerson whacks her as Rose did. But Angela plays another, and another. Abandoned soundboards and reeds cry out in reply. Strings quiver. Drums whimper. Woodwinds wail.

Blake sits in a corner unmoving. Not even this triumph can rouse him.

Another note, another peal of discord in Angela’s grandioso obliggato.

The ceiling bursts open to threaten the aged fearfuls away. Plaster, wood, insulation are cast to the air like handfuls of petals and sand. Those of the Instruments cling to the walls and jambs, use the metal organs to staff themselves forward to the girl of their nightmares.

“You cannot,” Flannerson screams. “You will kill us all. That thing is not safe when woken!”

But the wind is too great. His words are lost.

Angela continues to the office, blustering papers and scattering chairs and used teabags with her sounds. It is not here; it is one further, in a secret place.

With one swipe, the wall between she and it implodes and crumbles to the floor. There it is: A safe the color of faded grey-green. The enfleshed strings pitch against her bow, sounding tones of the proper frequency to spin the wheel with numbers zero to one hundred. To the right, to the left, to the right again, and click.

Another note and the door swings open. Papers fly, ledgers and checkbooks from ages ago, a forgotten pillbox and grandmother’s ring. The relict rod is all that remains, hovering.

“No, no, no,” Flannerson calls from two rooms down. The typhoon has torn away his cardigans. His instrument spine is bared for all. It pinches into the base of his neck at the sounds of its leader’s voice, the flute, the thing so tiny and old. He cries, he reaches.

And Angela turns at last, wind whipping curls now metallic. She can see. Her eyes are bathed in sterling. The bow is still of light. But she is no longer playing. The flute is all that’s needed. Her skin is shaded darker, a touch red and swirled. Her lines, her curves…

“I will set you free,” she whispers.

The creature that is Angela crumples to her knees. The wood still seethes through her flesh, the strings still slither through her veins. They are her and she is them. Those slopes she dreamed are hers, that skin, that voice. She cries out in ecstasy, lifts her hands to the visible sky as the flute song billows about what has become of her body, lines of tone settling as a dress, codas lacing round as bodice. Every movement a sound, every sigh a thunderclap.

The others see, they see. But then they scream and out comes dread.

To the instrumentalists the instruments fly, fast and furious as never before, and those without doppelganger present soar off on glissandos and legatos to find them. Percussion contort and swallow. Strings thread, pegs pierce. Buttons and pins find new holes and sounding boards. Bell and brass melt and pour into, around, down, through. Mouthpieces choke. Blood, blood, blood is casualty. The scars of age are muted, the etchings of time erased.

The bass and french horn continue their work. Flannerson bawls to no one that can help and Rose’s dying body twists and jiggles as something alive works in and through something that is inches from Grim. Blake finds a spare fleck of life and uses it to drag the remnants of his wretched frame to the piano. He climbs into the boat and knees the lid closed.

The sounds stir and brew. Shrieks mix with seizure mix with tinny, jangling shout. Chokes weave into canon, weeping into hymn—


The flute has ceased its brutal fermata. The stars hush. The wind holds its breath.

Angela surfaces, completed out of caroled metamorphosis. Her hand is saved; her hand is a hand; her hand is more than a hand. A brief tickle in her left is positioning, a simple gesture in her right is bowing. She sounds without effort, sings with every quiver.

Then Blake. Like his love, he is lacquered in black. His feet are planted into the earth, uttering deeps and unknowns as they move. His fingers are white, branded in gold flourishes. He meets the young woman’s eye—what was a young woman, and is now something else. He winks as a star winks against the night sky above. For a moment she cannot tell him apart from the expanse. His legs stride, his arms swing.

Another comes beside him. A male. His body coils this way and that. His arms unfurl, his feet twist and spiral, raising their owner high, low, sideways, thisways, propelling forth his self. He is gold, he is sunset sunlight, brighter than Angela’s bow. He has no wrinkles. His muscles are hard, hundreds of gears, spinning, whirring. He is a whir. The air passes through and takes on his thoughts.

“Thank you,” he whirs to Angela.

A woman steps from shadow.

She is a vision, a giantess, shoulders broad, hips swaying with the birth of a thousand sounds, a hundred thousand streaks of raptured noise. Upon her head is a mane of solid fire, seen as bright red even in night. Her flesh heaves, not quakes. Her back is smooth. She sets her hand on the head of the man of coils. Angela cranes her neck to regard the aesir woman’s eyes—white things marked in black semibreves and minims.

“Thank you,” she gongs to Angela. Coulees run down her cheeks.

Others stand; they have survived.

Another is taller than Rose, long, a black scar on a black sky. He blots out the stars and that is how they know of him. To him belong sounds so deep one feels them as vibrations and rattles. He dares not speak; he moves through thought.

Then is a man of cords, threads, bumps, and bulges, built up and out so beautifully he is as a mountain, stronger, made of tones unbreakable. And a woman, svelte, a pixie. Her skin is adagio, as are her movements, her very smiles and blinks. Then a man of darts and swipes instead of strides and paces. His skin is copper, his eyelashes and brows of gilt. A woman made of melancholy canons, written in blue ink, pasted around a spindle. A man with fists containing the power of breve after breve played in forte. A being without discernible gender, whirling too fast to care about choosing, plumed in sparks and burnished vapor.

They look at each other. Their eyes are wise, even those of ones once deemed too young. The girl is, perhaps, the wisest of them all.

The sky rattles with something not of them. Flannerson knows who it is, what is coming; when you bring forth old creatures, you summon old masters, wanted or unwanted..

The creatures look at each other against this rattling, unable to tear their minds from such beauty and terror that is themselves. Ruin surrounds their varied limbs. A fire, they could say, gas or electric. But they will not say.

“We should go,” Flannerson advises. The words are wind, movement, spinning, threshing.

A being of great slopes between wan mist nods; a requiem is there with the nod, in it, beyond it, and then winter’s breath and frost’s tickle. He is the incarnation of his instrument’s lamenting voice, that sound and a thousand others inside tissues beyond human.

Another cocks her head to listen to the rattling, musing at what sort of creature might own its fades and reverberations. She knows echoes; her mistress loved to echo and so she is of echoes now too, dressed in glimmers and quavers of sound, sometimes three sets of eyes, sometimes one.

Angela rips her nickel irises from the woman of echoes. She agrees with the man of coiling whirs. “Yes,” she says, sounds, discords in E and E flat. “We should find the others.”

For over the rattling she hears her kin, bitten and filleted and severed by ravenous instruments high on a song pitched outward before.

The flute levitates to lead them. Off it arcs into starlight.

Angela flies. The ones she saved fly.

* * *

Amy Holt lives in New York City with her husband and a hundred other characters, in her mind of course.  As a young girl, she knew she wanted to tell stories through words, and it took twenty-some years to happily return to this conclusion.  Amy can be found on Twitter at @storieswandered and blogs about writing and inspiration at

Where do you get the ideas for your stories?

Art inspires art, I guess.  I'm a big illustration fan, probably because I love stories however I can get them (though I love words most, of course).  I frequent illustration websites and often stumble across seeds of ideas that eventually sprout into prose ready to be written.  But it's also about self-awareness.  I may see an illustration and think, How interesting - that little girl's locket is bleeding.  But I must have an awareness of my own thoughts to be able to snatch that observation and stow it away to morph and swell into some future tale.


Charles Haddox said...

This story is stunning. Completely impossible to categorize, but beautifully written in the most resplendent prose. I was totally drawn into it. Truly memorable.