The strings of the violin vibrated beneath the pads of my fingers as I pulled the horsehair bow across the bridge. I played with a couple notes, making sure it was in tune, when, with a rush, the song came through me. It poured into me and came out through my fingers, which danced across the strings, faster and faster, as my body swayed, my knees bending and straightening. My eyes were open, trained on the position of my fingers as they trembled to form vibrato. I was not looking at sheet music; I didn’t need it.
The tune was an old one that I had learned many ages ago when I first came to this world. I’d not known why I was brought here, or by whom, but I did know that although I looked very similar to the people here, I was somehow different. My time was not theirs. I ran on a slower clock, and I could hear everything, each note before it was sung. My death was many eons ahead of theirs, and so when they died, I did not. For it was not my time and the One who kept track of such things had forgotten me for now. I was elated at first, a god amongst ants, and then I felt sadness, infinite mourning, for all of those I left behind. My sister and my father, my cousins, my friends. I would never see them again.
The last memory I had of my home, I sang into the violin. I played that moment over and over again. It had embedded itself in my being. It had become one with me. It had movement, three-dimensionality, a physic connection that had intertwined itself in the very fabric of my DNA. I played into the violin my memories of my home.
The music. Ah, yes, the music poured, like the rain I saw on my last day on Lok where I lived in a small town next to a sheer cliff. I had been out riding that day with a dappled pony named Grindle. We we were standing next to a small pond, grassy green with moss. Rocks on one side formed a trickling waterfall that fell gently into the cold, clear pool below. Around me were trees, tall and quivering, the sky steely. I could see that it was going to rain, so I walked Grindle to the ruins of an old mansion where a very rich family had once lived, before they all disappeared. The mansion was dilapidated now, several sections had fallen down. Trees had sprouted in what had been the kitchen, now without a ceiling. “Grindle, I wish one day that we could live in such a palace.”
Grindle wagged his head and neighed, as he picked his way through the stones and debris, past the garbage of squatters, carefully and without protest. I dropped his lead and sat down beneath an outcropping of stone. I put my hands on my chin, wishing suddenly that I had not ridden so far out. I hated getting wet, and if the rain stuck, I’d no doubt need to ride back eventually. Dad was making stew for dinner, and Lizzie had said that she would call tonight. She’d been traveling in the Ninth Region, where it was always warm and sunny.
I checked my watch. 13:10. It would be over by 14, I reasoned. My hands reached for a blade of grass, and as I plucked it, I noticed that it was surrounded by sweet flower. I tossed the grass aside and reached for a handful of the small leaves. I brought a few to my mouth and began to chew. It tasted exactly as it always had — sweet and sour, meaty and grassy. It reminded me of when I was a little girl, when I’d had another pony, the one before Grindle.
Thunder rolled across the sky. Looking up, I saw a bolt of lightening splintering the sky in the distance. My skin prickled, and I looked down at the hairs on my arm. They were standing upright, pulling towards the sky. A bolt touched down, nearby, splitting a tree with a great crack. I jumped to my feet , looking upwards as the lightening flashed again in the sky. My hair was standing upright, as was Grindle’s mane and tail, caught in a spindle of static electricity. Grindle tossed his head and reared up on his hind legs.
I watched as my pony turned in a spiral, lowering his head, his steps becoming shorter until his knees bent and he lay down on his side. I knew Grindle had it right by instinct. Better to be flat on the ground than to be upright — to be the first thing the lightening would hit.
Griddle was wise; I was not, I began to run, thunder roaring in my ears. I had heard the stories. This was how people went missing. I might be next. My arms stretched out, I stumbled and tripped over a rock, twisting my ankle.
“No!” I cried.
I tried to stand, but my ankle hurt wouldn’t hold me. I could hear nothing except for the thunder clapping in my brain. I covered my ears and closed my eyes. I began to crawl, yet I could feel my body getting lighter, then my boots scraping the earth as I was lifted up into the air that was warm and charged with static electricity. I looked down and saw Grindle being pulled towards the heavens too, though several yards behind me. Watching my pony struggle, I said, out loud, “This must be a dream.”
Yet, part of me knew it wasn’t.
“Why me? Why take me?”
The electrical charge didn’t answer; it held me firm. I was tracked upwards, the land beginning to look small below me. The air turned from warm to cooler, my face streaked with tears. “At least let Grindle stay!” I cried out, into the lightening and the thunder. “Please! Let him be! He’s done nothing wrong. He’s done nothing to you!”
Then I heard Grindle cry. I looked down and watched as the charge released him, and he plummeted back to earth. But he was too high up. Like a stone striking a pond, he slammed into the ground below, his body breaking. And I knew. I knew. I knew that whatever held me was infinitely intelligent … and cruel.
I had no power over it, and it would do with me as it liked. I was its toy. I was designed for its own amusement. Like a doll in a playhouse, it placed me where it wished, changed my clothes, brushed my hair and forced me to hold an empty cup of tea.
The street had changed from the last time
I’d run a shopping errand.
And that had been only a month ago.
Though I worked at the corner,
I rarely had time for a walk.
And when I did, I was hurried, weaving between
Idle European tourists,
Vendors selling jewelry,
And rough-hewn day-trippers from the outer boroughs,
Wondering why there wasn’t a fast lane
I knew where I was, not by the street names,
But by the shops that I passed.
Yet today, I wondered how far to Greene,
For the shops had turned into designer showrooms and pop-ups,
With names like Samsung, Moleskin and Moncler.
I assumed this was due to skyrocketing rent prices,
For no independent shopkeeper could afford