This story is by Nadine Brito and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The hair on the back of the Pianist’s neck rose as she entered the ruins.
It was here. She could feel it. Hear it.
A hum of energy radiated through the air. It was the keys, itching to be played—those keys! She sighed at the memory of the single key she had touched, so long ago. Keys that contain infinite variations of sound. Sounds too vast for this world. Too powerful.
Hitting that one note had ripped the Pianist’s world apart. Playing a composition? The idea was madness.
And yet, the thought had consumed the Pianist’s entire life. For there are no pianos in existence like the Obsidian piano.
It was by chance that the Pianist first encountered the dangerous instrument.
She was only a lost young girl, having wandered away from her class on a field trip. She passed through the maze of dark hallways in the imposing old university building. No classes must’ve been scheduled, for everything was quiet, and the halls were empty. Anxious, she entered the next room she saw.
Inside the room stood the Obsidian piano, the most striking and peculiar object she would ever see. Its black stone glistened, reflecting the light from the room’s small window. She moved right in front of it, taking in its massive size. At her full height, her head only just looked over the keys. The pedals were wide, separated by a few feet. And the keys—were the keys humming?—there was room for three fingers on one key. Though she wasn’t yet adult-size, she knew that any regular adult would have difficulty playing. It was made for giants.
Play me. The hairs on the back of her neck rose. The instrument…it was speaking to her. Begging her to play. Without any thought, she reached out and struck one single ivory key.
The power that emitted from that key slammed into her as though she stood in front of a train running at full speed. In that key was every single sound possible to know, defined in such a clear way that she understood it all. Understood it—yet it was too much for her human mind to contain. The sounds overwhelmed her, knocking her to the floor, out cold.
Her eyes fluttered open, hours later, to the sound of swishing. Swishing—but not only that. She heard everything around her. The vibrations from the wind against the building. The fly buzzing far off in the corner of the room. The drop of a petal from the violet flower on the window sill. Every single tone, whether big or small, rippled around her, and she heard every crisp detail. Gazing around to locate the source of the swishing, she gasped, astonished. The Obsidian was gone! Nothing was there, no trace left behind. As if it had never existed.
The swishing came from the long, black tunic of a Tall Man who hurried away, slamming the door behind him. Jumping up, the girl raced forward, pulling the door open. She peered down the hallway, but no one was there. Whoever the Tall Man was, he was gone with the Obsidian piano.
This was the day that she became the Pianist. For in that moment that she struck the piano key, she was gifted with a perfect ear for music. She knew every note in every sound, though she could not explain the scales or the letters of them. She could pick up any instrument and play it, exceptionally well. For her, it was as natural as breathing. Her body physically and mentally craved sound, and she couldn’t explain why her ears and her hands understand it so instinctively.
As she grew up, everyone around her took notice of her boundless talent. The Royal Conservatory of Music labelled her a prodigy before she was a teenager. She started to travel, playing the piano for audiences around the world in some of the biggest music venues, earning critical acclaim along the way. The Pianist could play any song—classical, jazz, contemporary, modern pop, name any genre and she’d do it. Her original compositions moved people, bringing the cruel to tears, the depressed to joy. Musicians and historians claimed that a musician such as her hadn’t been seen since Mozart. Simply put, music was her superpower.
And yet, nothing about this pleased her. It never would. Not until she found the Obsidian once more. The thought of the power that she tapped into for that brief moment…She longed to feel it again.
Everywhere the Pianist went, she searched. Every hall, every university, every music conservatory, anywhere that it might possibly be, she looked. In her bones, the Pianist knew it existed; it wasn’t some childish fantasy. She was born once she touched the music; life before the Obsidian didn’t exist.
The second time the Pianist located the instrument she was twenty-five, in Paris for a recital at the Palais Garnier. But it wasn’t in the grand opera house that she found it. On a brief excursion through the countryside, her car broke down. Looking for assistance, she found herself outside a dilapidated cottage. The crumbling stone indicated that it must have been built long ago. The flowers, ivies, and weeds ran wild—part of a grand garden no longer maintained.
Though she banged on the door for quite some time, no one answered the Pianist’s call. Irritated, she sat down amongst the striking purple of the Orpheus flowers. As she smelled one, the hair on the back of her neck rose. Something was nearby; it couldn’t be the Obsidian—could it? Forgetting her annoyance, she began to wander the grounds. No one stopped her.
She found herself drawn to an old shed. Entering it, her eyes widened; there, right there! It was the Obsidian! Excited, she rushed forward—only to be shoved out of the way by the same Tall Man in his swishing tunic.
“Get back!” He screamed, “Don’t touch!”
The Pianist faced him, astonished at the peculiarity of his eyes. Why, they were gleaming! They shone, as if they were made of gold. On the shoulder of his tunic was a small symbol—a golden lyre.
“Sir…I’m a pianist, I know how to play, I won’t damage it—“ She began, words barely out of her mouth before she knew it was futile.
“No. This piano isn’t for humans.”
“Sir, I promise you…it’s only that I haven’t seen anything like this piano before—“
“Forget it. I’m its keeper, and it’s time it be moved again.”
The Pianist stepped forward, ignoring him. Instantly he pulled out a gun, aiming it at her. She stopped, raising her hands.
“Leave. You don’t understand the danger. If it were possible to destroy I would. But it’s not. I can’t let anyone play it.”
The Pianist hesitated, and the Tall Man shot a warning into the air. Yelping, she scrambled out of the shed. Outside, she heard a rush of noise, and then—silence. Nervous, she pushed the door open. The shed was empty; all traces of the Tall Man and instrument gone.
Already preoccupied with it before, her second encounter with the Obsidian made the Pianist succumb to complete obsession. She had to find it and know its secrets, at all costs.
Years passed, and her career as a musician continued to flourish. The more success she had, the more the Obsidian tormented her. All of her honours, awards, fans, titles—what did they really matter, in the grand scheme? Mere human accolades that faded away with time. Humans, she thought, disdainful. Thinking they have power…but they don’t. She’d seen that. And she loathed the limitations of her human form. There was so much more.
Finally, many long years later, the Pianist sits at the giant Obsidian, a middle-aged woman. Now, among Greek ruins, the Tall Man lies on the ground beside her, poisoned. Venom—he’ll heal soon, but it’s more than enough time. It’s been an arduous journey, but she’s finally here. Ready to play the composition of her existence.
Her hands hover over the keys, feeling the electric current in the air. The Obsidian is also ready; it wants to be played. Who knows how long it’s been?
The Pianist dives into her composition. The air crackles around her, and suddenly her entire existence is sheer, pure power. She cries in delight, unable and unwilling to ever stop. Every sound in the universe pours out of the Obsidian, overflowing the ears of all living creatures. It’s too much for them to bear; they cover their bleeding ears, praying that the music ends. All over, the human world begins to crumble, caving in on itself—the end of this particular composition.
The Pianist continues playing, the sound driving her to madness. Lost in the sublime music, she takes no notice as the surrounding world falls apart. All control ceded, it is the Obsidian piano that plays her.
This was never an instrument for humans.