His tapered fingers danced across the keys, coaxing a haunting melody from the dusky piano. I lingered, tucked away into the shadowed corner of the chapel. Stained glass windows let crisp autumn air pour in.
He did not see me. Not now, lost in his private reverie, giving all of himself to his music. I leaned into the stone wall, letting my heavy eyes draw close. I soaked in the soaring notes, their delicate strains tantalizing.
I could listen to him for eternity. I did not need to touch him. Not even see him. His image could float across my mind, borne by the tides of his beautiful tune.
Self-conscious, I smoothed the pleats of my white dress, ran my fingers through my hair. I felt unworthy of the music’s majesty, undeserving of its presence-
The music stopped. I glanced up, startled, to see him peering back at me.
He looked at me with smooth glass eyes. A soft smile illuminated his face as he twisted his neck, peering over his shoulder. His eyes were a rheumy blue, almost as if he were blind.
“I wasn’t expecting company,” he said quietly, voice like dark, sweet water.
I blushed. “I didn’t mean to stay,” I apologized. “But I heard you from outside, and I couldn’t resist. You play so beautifully.”
He laughed in a small manner, like the fluttering of a moth’s wing. “I didn’t expect company. I never said I didn’t enjoy it.” He turned, drawing a sweet tune from the keys. “Tell me what you like. Songs of love? Of mourning? I can play them all.”
“Of dreams,” I said quickly, without thinking. “I like songs of dreaming. Songs of impossible things.”
He looked at me wryly, folding his hands in his lap. They were covered in white calfskin gloves. “Dreams? That’s something I rarely play.” He glanced at the piano contemplatively. “I oft times wonder if I’ve forgotten how to dream. Tell me. Can you teach me?”
“To dream?” I asked, taken aback. I rose from the hollow in the wall, walking slowly to the pew behind him. He was like an angel cut from stone.
“Yes,” he said, voice tinged with longing. He gazed out the window at a slice of blue sky.
“Well, I don’t know if I can do that,” I said, hesitant. “You just close your eyes-“
“Show me.” he whispered, gazing intently at me. “I want to see exactly what you do.”
“Here, now?” I asked. His eyes bore into my soul.
“Yes,” he said quietly, letting his finger drift to the piano. He caressed a single key. It echoed through the church like the last breath of a dead man.
“Well, like I said, you close your eyes-” I did so, breaking his gaze. Relief flooded me, for a reason beyond my ken. I sank back into the pew. “And then, after you drift off to sleep, you dream.
It’s as simple as that.”
“Is it?” he asked, voice ripe with challenge. My skin pricked at his tone. I shivered unfathomably.
“Yes,” I whispered, beginning to doubt my words.
A wind picked up, kissing my skin. He gave a small half-smile.
“Then I will play your dreams.”
It was as if heaven bled into the room. The music stirred my heart with warmth; I wanted to lose myself within it. I couldn’t bear to open my lids.
I gasped, startled, as hands enveloped mine. They guided me from the pew with quiet forcefulness, cupping my palms as if their owner meant to lead me in a dance. The piano played, growing malicious in its beat. The keys, tormented, wailed ever so beautifully.
I shivered. These dreams were not my own.
“You do not open your eyes?” he asked, voice rich like the light of the moon.
I shook my head, trembling. “No. It would ruin the dream.”
He led me in a serpentine dance, my feet guided by a will not my own. I felt like a satellite, revolving ever so gracefully.
“What if I told you,” he whispered, breath hot on my neck, “that all the world was asleep?”
My fingers were numb with cold. “Then I would laugh, and I’d call you a fool.”
“What if I said,” he continued, voice almost urgent, “that you are about to be shaken violently awake?”
I laughed, nervous. “And what? Wake up in this world again?”
“No. That you will wake up, with me.”
“But neither of us is asleep.”
“Are you sure?”
He laughed softly. “For whom, may I ask, do I play?”
“Me,” I said. My voice faltered. Dread slowed my step.
“Yet here I stand, dancing with you.”
I gasped, face paling. A stone lodged in my throat. He covered my eyes with soft hands. “I know you want to open your eyes. But to do so would be horrible indeed.”
“Why?” I demanded, horrified.
“Because then,” he whispered, lips skimming my temple, “I could not dream you awake. And dreams are a terrible thing to lose.”
“This isn’t a dream.” I insisted, voice quaking. “I’m flesh and blood!”
“You’d think, wouldn’t you?” he sighed. The piano fell silent, and the void of that emptiness was icier than death. A cold wind blew through the window, crowning us with frost. His arms threaded
around me. “Any moment, I will shatter this dream. And you, dream-girl, will go with me.”
The stained glass cracked. Suddenly faint, I collapsed against him. My senses swam as he gathered me into his arms. “I remember when I was woken,” he murmured. “You have nothing to fear.” Perhaps he looked down at me sorrowfully. “It’s as easy as falling asleep.”
The piano began to play.
“We speak in music,” he murmured, carrying me out into the unforgiving snow. “We speak in music, where I’m from.”
The door slammed shut behind us.
All faded to black.