Dimmed lights, drawn curtains, the room is thrown into an early dusk. Books line the walls, ancient volumes with yellow pages, begging to be opened. In the corner is an armchair, faded and covered in cobwebs. In the center, commanding the attention of the entire library, is a grand piano. Music, chords strung flawlessly together, flows like a current from the strings.
Arthur sat with his head bowed, eyes closed as his fingers glided over the keys. Emaciated and pale, he played, his body swaying with the rhythm of his melody. If anybody had walked by yesterday, they would have heard his music. If they had walked by the day before yesterday, they would have heard a different tune. Not a tune from a piano. A tune from the throat of a tortured soul.
Mid-song, the door to the library was slammed open. In came an irate old woman, yelling in a voice strong enough to wake the dead, “-GOOD FOR NOTHING BUM! GET YOUR ASS OUTSIDE AND TEND THE GARDEN! WHAT IS THE USE OF YOU? THEY SHOULD HAVE LET YOU DIE, RATHER THAN COME TO ME!”
Arthur jumped up from his piano in a panic. He could see the switch in her hand, saw her arm raise to strike him. He bolted, past her and out the door. He didn’t slow until he had gone down two flights of stairs, through the entry, and into the orchard. Slumped against a tree, Arthur gasped to catch his breath. Relax, he told himself, they can’t hurt you. They can’t touch you.
On the breeze, he heard a man’s voice, dragging through the wind, “Arthur, we’re going to find youuuu. Arthurrrrr, you can’t hide from ussss. Come out Arthur, we want to plaaaaay. Don’t you want to see our toysss?”
Then, mixing with the man’s voice, the woman’s came, “YOU FILTH, YOU WASTE OF SPACE, YOU SHOULD HAVE DIED ON THE STREETS RATHER THAN BURDEN OUR DOORSTEP-”
And a third, a child, high and sweet but also haunting,”Oh Arthur, why don’t you want to come out and play? Why don’t you want to see our shiny toys? They’ll only hurt a little. Come out Arthur.”
Arthur covered his ears, sliding down the tree, screaming, “STOP IT! YOU CAN’T HURT ME, YOU AREN’T REAL! STAY OUT OF MY HEAD! STOP STOP ST-”
A strange sensation was tickling his leg. Arthur opened his eyes to see a spider, at least three inches long, creeping up his pants leg. He closed his eyes and opened them once more. The spider had multiplied and now there were twenty spiders, crawling towards him, pincers clicking, echoing through the now-silent orchard; the voices had vanished. Now it was the clicking of the spiders as more and more crawled out from the grass, scuttling up his legs, threatening to overwhelm him.
He leapt to his feet, too terrified to scream. Jumping and trying to swat all the spiders off his legs, he raced back to the mansion, banging through the door and back up the stairs. He arrived back in his library in a mess of sweat and tears. He slammed the door shut and bolted it. Shaking, he crawled to the piano bench and pulled himself up. His fingers found the keys without thought and he began to play. Tears continued to fall, splashing the keys and the fingers that danced across them. Slowly, slowly, Arthur’s muscles began to unclench. His eyelids relaxed and he began to sway to the music. For music was his only release, his only safe haven, if only for a little while.
Notes blurred into notes as the hours drug on. Arthur was ignorant to the passing of time, focused only on the music. Slowly, the hours turned into a day, and one day became two. Yet still, he made his music. Lost, forever, in the notes pouring from the strings. His fingers had become cracked, the keys streaked with blood. Arthur’s eyes had not opened once to see the blood. He had not noticed the pain. He played on.
They found him, some days later, slumped over the keys of his beautiful grand piano. His headstone didn’t say much, for not much was known of the hermit. The man lost in his mansion, his mind, and his music.