Prompt: You’ve recently moved to a beautiful home nestled in the woods. No neighbors for miles. Three nights ago, you woke in the middle of the night to discover strange music coming from deep within the woods. Each night since, same music at the same time. Tonight you decide to find the source.
Initially, the nightly symphonic sounds drifting through the open window was welcomed. The new home was not a loud one, it was not a place for noise or cheer. The walls were bare, the cabinets and closets, the same. The rooms, oh, the rooms matched what remained of my insides after my beloved, my sweet Cynthia’s passing: empty, desolate, cold and exhausted. Save for the master bedroom, a small bed on the floor, a spilling stack of unread books in the corner, and empty bottles of wine littering the floor. The room’s window faced the stretching evergreens beyond my unkempt land.
The music swelled inside the room like steam in a kettle. I was afraid to open the bedroom door, fearful that it would release the orchestral music from my ears, but it continued on and on, rising in pitch with every passing night. It began soothing — cellos and strings pouring into my ears like milk into tea — then it rose and rose until brass horns and drums, incessant harps and deep bass crashed over me like a wave from the sea.
I had enough. I wanted the silence. I wanted to think of her, remembering Cynthia’s wake, her tangles of brown flowing over her round shoulders, hanging over her pale chest; her, her, her… But the noise — that damn noise! — issuing through the slammed shut opaque window gave me no reprieve.
I shouted obscenities into the air, at the forest, as I wrenched open the bedroom door and stomped downstairs, grabbing a torch from the closet, then trudged outside, through knee-high grass and into the evergreens.
Tree trunks loomed like giant, wooden pillars. I stomped through the twigs and underbrush, my light lancing through the ever-thickening darkness. The nightly symphony echoed through the trees, seemed to vibrate the very air in the forest, shaking branches, raining needles down upon my uncovered head.
I continued north, yet the land appeared different after some time. I turned to the south, rows of evergreens; looked to the west, rows of evergreens; to the east, the same. I peered up through the thin, skeletal branches into the starless night sky desperately to find the moon overhead and use it as my compass, but alas, there was no moon, nor stars.
I faced where I believed was north, then continued.
The symphony became a garbled, incoherent heap of noise, like the sound of the kindle popping and sizzling while reading, something to fill the empty void in the air.
I stopped when warm light spilled over the trees, throwing long shadows across the ground. Quickly I extinguished my torch and crept towards the light, as if whatever— whoever it was could me over the droning orchestra.
I stood on the periphery of a clearing, empty of trees and underbrush. A large fire, blazing with multicolored flames, licked the night sky in the center. Oranges, blues, red and greens, yellows and purples radiated with that damn music, like heat, with every snapping of kindle or popping of twigs.
I strode towards the flames, hurried to extinguish them and their blasted symphony, but stopped when a thin woman wearing a black dress, with flowing hair, walked around the fire. She held a bundle of logs, embroidered with golden swirls, like musical noes on script, that gleamed beneath the flames light.
She knelt, placed a log into the fire, then straightened and continued to circle the fire.
I took a step forward. A twig snapped.
She turned to me, strands of her chestnut hair spilling over her round shoulder, over her pale chest—
Oh… oh God!
The feeling in my hand vanished, and the torch dropped to the ground.
I ran, screaming a name that rattled inside my head for what felt like eons.
She knelt and dropped the logs onto the grass, then stood.
My arms were around her small body, and I lifted her into the air as I spun in circles.
Her arms were around my neck—
Tears fell freely, joyously, from my eyes and a smile I could not contain stretched over my face.
Her pale fingers caressed my face—
Laughter swelled inside me and burst forth like a water through a dam, overwhelming the fire’s music, filling my ears with nothing but my own happiness.
Then her lips were on mine, and time held no reign — the world held its breathe for us.
Moments, hours, perhaps days later, our lips broke free and I gently let her onto her feet. I still held her in my arms, and I leaned forward, whispering into her ear, “How are you here, my love? How are you alive? I seen you, I seen you lowered—”
She pressed a finger to my lips.
“Shh, the fire, the music. I found it in the Other Place, the Place Beyond… It needed kindling, a caretaker, a conductor…”
I wanted to ask about Other Place, the Place Beyond; what she meant by being a caretaker, what about the kindling; but her finger still pressed on my lips and a smile crept over her face.
It matters not, I thought, shaking my head. She is here, that is all that matters.
“And it helped you back, here?” I asked around her finger.
She nodded, her grayish blue eyes shimmering in the glow of the fire. “Yes, but only to bring more.”
She ran her finger down my cheek.
“More of what, my love?”
“Caretaker, conductors; more kindling for its form.”
“To do what?” I asked.
“To grow, to burn, to play its music from land to sea, to sky to space. It calls upon us in the Other Place, it calls upon our loved ones to follow…”
My body tensed, her dress gripped in my hands. “To do what?”
I looked past her shimmering eyes to the fire beyond, then back to her.
The world took her away, but the flames gave her back.
“What is required of me?”
“Step within its frame and smolder; stoke the flames on the Other Side. It will return you, one way or another.”
“And will you be there? When I return?”
She nodded, kissed me, whispered in my ear, “Always, my love.”
I held her tight, buried my face into her chestnut hair, and said, “I will see you again, my love, my Cynthia.”
Then, I released her and stepped towards the flames.
Read my previous prompt, “From One Game to the Next.”
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