This story is by Ryan Fleming and was part of our 2023 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Like a snuffed candle, my Lena was gone. Taken by destiny’s cruel, whimsical choices, I was left desolate and ravaged by sorrow.
Grief drives many a man to vices, succumbing to their numbing effects. Yet, no such substances granted me an escape. After nights of loneliness and the agony of wishing for one more second to feel her skin, just a mere moment of sharing her breath, I returned to my second paramour, an unwavering confidante, the piano.
My muse was despair—the pain, a prisoner of my soul that had to be freed. If my Lena could no longer live, then she would be immortalized through song. My melody for her would become a resurrection hymn for my anguished heart.
Yet, in my desperate attempt to grieve, I crafted lyrics from a vile nightmare that my powerless spirit could not vanquish.
Oh, Lena! I shall never be forgiven for birthing such a monstrosity! How I yearn for you. I wish I had known the lurking shadow within the tragic chords of my song.
It would be on a Sunday when I breathed life into those verses. My melancholy state mirrored the ashen, brooding clouds, casting an atmospheric symphony of sadness over the town beneath. Alone, I perched on the hillside, surveying the hundred silent standing stones of the Hungarian villa. From afar, they took on the deceptive guise of blossoms, and against the madden sky, their pallor stirred my longing for ivory piano keys.
Despite the growing tempest overhead, I witnessed the scene below me – a carriage, a priest, a catafalque donning an encompassing sheet. Darkness within my soul was suddenly awakened and gave rise to lyrics penned to a page, thus sealing an enigmatic contract beyond the realm of mortal comprehension.
Lena, I thought of us. That thin layer of ink only served as a marker for my anguish and sorrow. My pen bled with the absence of your being, with each stroke desperately attempting to fill the hollow spaces with your memories. Little did I fathom the waves that such a diminutive stone would produce. Even after all that I had wrought, is it a sin that I have an insatiable desire to be reunited with you in the embrace of eternity?
The words flowed effortlessly, the ink like blackened tears. Their indelible markings left an eternal lament for all to bear witness and share in my ceaseless sorrow. My fingers caressed those lovely keys, and by nightfall, “Gloomy Sunday” had been born.
The lyrics, the agony now released into this world, were more than words next to carefully stroked notes. There was an arcane power present. How could I know that I would be sentencing many to their own demise?
Were you watching Lena? Did you see the producer’s face when my voice carried my…our pain to his ears? After his response, I should have understood the consequences of that mournful cadence. From your heavenly place, did you know what he would do next?
I bore witness to something inside him break – a hidden dam of his sorrow crumbling before my eyes. Tears gushed from his countenance. “Rezso Seress, that was…such longing, desire, and unfulfilled anticipation. Oh God! The weight of such words is nearly…suffocating.”
Set to record “Gloomy Sunday” in a week, I returned to the solace of my empty home, believing some good could come from sharing my loss. But the demons of my song had been unshackled; their threat unleashed on an unsuspecting world.
The producer, an unwitting harbinger, took the inaugural step into the abyss. Oh, Lena! Such doom I did not realize.
The day after Sunday, I found him hanging there, a chair knocked over. Traumatic as it was, I dismissed his death as an unfortunate turn of events. He, like me, was one of the survivors from the front lines of the great war. Though he managed to return home with every limb intact, something in his mind had been lost forever. Madness took up residence. A piece of humanity lost and, on that day, his soul.
Yet, I was not deterred. I unearthed the perfect vocalist, and with my gliding hands on the piano, we inscribed into that initial record a song that summoned a catastrophic tidal wave.
How many times have you heard our song? How many times have you witnessed those poor souls succumb to its power?
The vocalist, yes, the one whose voice resonates with the masses, was the second victim. Two days after our recording, he was found in his single-room apartment. The injuries to his extremities were of his own frantic design.
His death only ignited a morbid curiosity. Radio stations, including Germany and Austria, demanded to air “Gloomy Sunday.” I heard ghostly whispers of a British version recorded but was never released due to the crescendo of death that seemed to come in the song’s wake.
On a glib and damp winter night, I heard the radio crack, and the intro of my creation began to play. Ensnared by the cascade of her memories, I sobbed unabated through the entirety of the song.
Do you remember those days, Lena? For a few coins, our song fed me but laid claim to the lives of others.
Reluctant to believe the whispers, I spurned rumors that our song caused pain and anguish. Angry letters arrived at my doorstep for months before the Second World War.
Lovers, mothers, and brothers all blamed me for our song, unleashing a profound sadness. I read accusations: “It transformed him,” “She grieved as if thousands had died,” and “Tears that drained the very life out of him.” Yes, emotion was coaxed from the depths of their souls, yet in the inexorable sea of our chorus, many found themselves submerged into merciless depression.
What cruelness besets humanity? To live through not one but two world wars. To be surrounded by nothing but the pitiful loss of life. Guns and ships are agents of death. Is my trade the same? Blasting our song through the airwaves like a dive bomber?
Over time, a horrific war shrouded my creation and its truth – words that unlocked the final door that protects humanity from actualized despair. Oh, how I long to obliterate this abomination and withhold its vicious talons from all listening ears!
Why won’t you tell me how many, Lena? So many stories exaggerate the grim toll. But you know and remain silent to my inquiry. Alas, regardless of the rumors, one is too many.
Today has been an eerie reflection of the day our song was written. Gloomy clouds hovered over the city, and I could bear this pain no further. To have my Lena torn away from me so swiftly, and yet those final moments eternally looping, always looming with lost souls I shared my sorrow with.
One last cigarette as the moon rises over Budapest, and the record player crackles. Without any vanity, I will play our song one final time. As I sing to you, I will surrender to its truth and find my place on the balcony. The clock tower chimes the midnight hour, and I dive into Monday.
Lena, will the masses, despite the song’s insidious allure, keep at bay if it claims me as its final captive? Perhaps, through my sacrifice, others can live for the day after a gloomy Sunday. Regardless, I am coming for you. As I wrote long ago: For in my death, I am caressing you. In my final breath, I am blessing you.
As I plunge into the chilling void, I pray this act is not eternally remembered because of our song but for my love and longing for you, Lena.