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When writing this short story, I started with a basis of something I love and something I dislike. I am a violinist (it is my utmost passion), so I chose to use the theme of classical music as one of the main components in my story. Furthermore, I believe that music is a medium of connection, communication, unity, and vulnerability unlike any other, so I had the idea of using a composition/performance to deliver the strong statement (I took the idea of communication quite literally this time). My inspiration for the drama flowed directly from the disastrous situation the world is in right now, as well as observing both the beauty and the flaws within human nature.
“Please, please, please!” exclaimed Elias under his breath, his heart thumping against his chest as he opened a letter containing either the tenth rejection, or first acceptance for premiering his symphony.
Dear Mr. Fischer,
Although your submission shows much promise, we are regrettably unable to offer you a premier at this time. However, this does not mean -
Not bothering to read the rest of its contents, Elias crumpled the letter into a tight ball as he stomped up the stairs back into his apartment. “Another one? Really?! How much longer can I go on this way, I mean - ” Elias’ soliloquy was interrupted at the sight of his apartment door left wide open. “Strange. Did I really leave it open? I could have sworn I had closed it securely. Maybe I am seriously losing my mind…” muttered Elias as he entered his apartment and locked the door.
“Excuse me? Young man?”
Elias wheeled around at the sudden sound of a raspy, muffled voice.
“Who’s there?!” he exclaimed.
“Over here, behind the Mozart scores,” said the voice.
Slowly turning away from his score studies, Elias caught a glimpse of a middle-aged man, no more than fifty years old, leaning on a stack of old manuscripts. He was shorter, with broad shoulders, and messy brown hair which reminded Elias of Beethoven. Immediately drawn to his striking dark blue eyes, Elias noticed an expression of deep sorrow and helplessness, mixed with a remnant of past vivacity and passion. He could have sworn that the man’s body shimmered and became translucent for a moment, but he brushed it off and thought it must be an illusion created by shifting rays of sunlight.
“What are you doing here in my studio?” inquired the man, snapping Elias out of his daze.
“Y-Your studio?” stammered Elias. “This must be a misunderstanding, I live and study here.”
“Oh so now this workspace doubles as an apartment? For a mere conservatory student like you? Interesting,” muttered the man, as he gazed around the crowded room.
Containing his exasperation and confusion as best he could, Elias replied, “I’m sorry sir, but what exactly are you doing here? Who are you?”
“Forgive me, I did not mean to offend you. I got lost in memories I haven’t revisited in such a long time. I’m Ricardo Rossi, and I used to… well, work here, in a sense. And you are…?”
“Elias Fischer, composition student at the Juilliard school.”
“Ah, a fellow composer!” exclaimed Ricardo, looking expectantly at Elias. He was only met with a blank, yet curious, stare from Elias.
“What, you’ve never heard of me?” added Ricardo, suddenly saddened and hurt.
“I’m sorry sir – er – Maestro, I can’t say I have yet.”
“Oh, so the world continues to view my forewarning as a joke, even after disaster. Perhaps even as a silly coincidence. How could they?!” Ricardo cried out in desperation.
Alarmed, Elias backed away, knocking over a pile of manuscripts. The two men looked down, and suddenly beheld the topmost score: Vedere, by Ricardo Rossi.
“Ah, I see that no one has bothered to rid the world of my manuscript. Perhaps it was too funny to burn or cast away,” remarked Ricardo, bending to peer at the notes.
“This is… your opera?” Intoned Elias, staring up at Ricardo with wide eyes. “Now I recall having looked through it as a teenager, but I did not understand it. Everyone I asked avoided my questions, and called it ‘silly,’ or ‘highly unimportant.’ Eventually I listened to them, and forgot about it.”
“Silly?! Unimportant?! They are only so insecure because they did not listen… which led to their demise. If only… my purpose…” exclaimed Ricardo, his voice trailing off to a whisper as he gazed emptily at the floor.
“I’m sorry Maestro… but I do not understand. What happened? What didn’t the audience listen to? What purpose?” inquired Elias.
Ricardo jerked up, as if having been suddenly woken from a dream. He stared straight at Elias, and eventually murmured, “Very well. Perhaps you’ll listen, or perhaps you won’t. I’ve got nothing to lose now, anyhow…” He was met with a blank look from Elias. “I’ll tell you my story, idiot! Sit down, and listen attentively. Please, just believe what I say. I implore you. I say this now, and you’ll understand why later.”
Elias could barely contain his curiosity and astonishment, but he took care to sit still and clear his mind.
“It was just a typical Tuesday, in the year 1989,” began Ricardo. “I was walking to this very studio, sulking about my consistently unsuccessful attempts at composing my opera. You see, I was dreaming of writing and putting on the most impactful and astonishing opera ever written. I spent nearly all of my energy on finding the right inspirations, trying melody after melody, plot line after plot line, driven by this maddening sense of fulfilling my purpose. Occasionally I managed to produce a couple completed drafts, bringing them to my close friend and mentor, Maestro Gutteni who- ”
“Maestro Gutteni?! You were close friends with THE Maestro Gutteni?!” interjected Elias, unable to contain himself.
“Why… yes?” stammered Ricardo. “Very close.”
“That’s incredible! The infamous music director at the MET! I can’t believe it… it was said that he died without friends, though, as he had devoted the last thirty or forty years entirely to his career. He purposely distanced himself from others, and was only open when working with the musicians or when talking about his work. Strangely, he avoided talking about his career before the epidemic…” Elias trailed off, thinking about how Ricardo’s story might have to do with this.
“I did not know he had died, but I might have an idea as to why he often veered away from his past…” remarked Ricardo, mournfully.
“Sorry – I did not mean to interrupt you – please, go on with your story,” said Elias.
“Very well,” said Ricardo. “As I was saying, Maestro Gutteni greatly admired my work and persistently tried to get it published and performed at the MET, but no one could be convinced. As for my own opinion, I was sometimes proud of what I had written, but a feeling deep inside of me told me incessantly that it was not ‘the one,’ not the stunning, meaningful opera that I was meant to show the world. But I digress to that fateful Tuesday. I was increasingly unmotivated and disappointed in myself, and the only thing that kept me going was Maestro Gutteni’s fervent encouragement, combined with that strange feeling of purpose. The city was bustling around me, as usual, but it never pierced my consciousness, as my lethargy weighed down on me. No one paid me any mind in the city, everyone seemed consistently annoyed with me, even when I simply ordered a coffee in the morning. It was as if they all held a grudge against me, only I could not fathom why.”
“Completely wrapped up in self pity and frustration, I failed to apprehend the car speeding towards me as I crossed the road. In the space of only a few seconds, I whipped my head around, and the next thing I knew I was projected into the air, soon slammed harshly onto the pavement. I completely blacked out as people around rushed to my side. As I lay there in complete oblivion, I heard a voice in my head, telling me to ‘look, look, look, please!’ It was warning me of something, in a thin quivery, yet insistent voice. Puzzled, I looked around, surrounded by darkness. Suddenly, a sharp piercing outcry, mashed together with a light as bright as the sun, caught my attention, and made the hairs on my arms stand on end. To my bewilderment, I began seeing fast moving scenes from a terrible disaster, with people lying and crying in agony on hospital beds or even from their own homes, paramedics slowly losing their minds as they lost control of whatever was going on, and people violently protesting in the streets. I saw young children crying out to their parents, nowhere to be found, universities and plazas suddenly turned into makeshift hospitals, and people praying, filled with worry and uncertainty. What hit me the hardest, though, were the ditches filled with countless lifeless bodies, surrounded by stone-faced men and women in hazmat suits, constantly adding more and more to the piles. After all this flashed by me, there was a moment of silence, until the voice spoke again, this time strong and certain, “You know what to do. Fulfill your purpose, fulfill your longing.” It sounded like my father, who had died when I was only ten years old, but mixed with a divine power. I could still picture his bright eyes peering at me from his pale, fading face. Suddenly, I knew.”
Tears were streaming down Ricardo’s face, as Elias snapped out of his enraptured listening. “You saw the pandemic before it happened?! H-how… what?!” Stammered Elias.
“You don’t believe me, do you?” hissed Ricardo.
“I… well, as crazy as it sounds, I do. There’s something about you, in the way that you tell this story, that somehow makes it true. I don’t understand it, but I just know,” reflected Elias.
“W-well. You’re different, boy, than everyone else. No one has taken the time to listen to the rest of my story, let alone believed anything I told them… Shall I continue?” intoned Ricardo.
“Yes, please!” exclaimed Elias, in a wondrous tone.
“Waking up with a start,” began Ricardo, “I quickly discerned the bright lights and sirens, and found I was in an ambulance. In a flurry, I tore off my oxygen mask and attempted to burst out of the doors. The paramedics grabbed me and slammed me back into the bed as I fought to get free. ‘Hold on, little man!’ said one of the paramedics, towering over me. ‘You’ve been hit by a car, we need to take you to the hospital and examine you.’
‘Little man?! Hospital?! First of all, I am twenty-seven years old, how dare you! And second of all, I must return to my studio now, as I have had a revelation! You must have had enough time to examine me, I was out for at least an hour! Wait, why aren’t we at the hospital by now?’ I replied in a frenzy.
‘Calm down. You were out for only fifteen minutes,” said a woman to my left.
‘What?! Regardless, this is absurd, I must go!’ With that statement, some superhuman strength overcame me and I was able to jump out of the moving vehicle. I crashed to the pavement with a loud slap and rolled to a stop. I ignored the sharp stinging sensation in my knees and elbows and sprinted like I never had before (or since) to my studio.”
“Somehow, my internal compass guided me there, and I ran directly into Maestro Gutteni. Ignoring the Maestro’s gaping expression, I ran past him and shouted back, ‘I’ve had a vision! I know my purpose! I’m going to save the world with my opera!’ Reaching the studio in no time, I grabbed whatever I could to begin composing my masterpiece, and worked day and night for two weeks, wasting no time and surviving on coffee and protein bars. I truly was driven by a force I could not identify or comprehend, but everything came to me, and rushed to my head, almost too quickly. I heard that there were a number of rumors about what had happened to the ‘deranged composer,’ but they soon died off as people moved on and simply did not care. Maestro Gutteni, almost ready to believe that his dear young friend had indeed lost his mind, tried multiple times to enter the room and talk with me, but I always ignored him or sent him away. The best the Maestro could do was keep curious colleagues and family from intruding, assuring them that he was keeping an eye on a simply over-passionate composer.”
“I officially signed the manuscript about a week after the accident, and suddenly collapsed on the floor. Everything inside of me seemed to stop; the drive, the extreme passion, the excitement, the fear, the voices. Suddenly, nothing was left, but an unfamiliar feeling. It was… confidence? Satisfaction? Pride? A sense of true achievement? I had never felt any of that since I was left to fend for myself after my parents passed away. Staring at the ceiling, I began to laugh and smile for the first time in years, out of pure shock and ecstasy. Suddenly, I stopped, as I realized there was more to be done in order for me to truly fulfill his purpose. Coming out of the room for the first time in weeks, I brushed away Maestro Gutteni’s questions and embraces, telling him about my vision, and explaining that it was essential for the opera to be put on at the MET (along with being broadcast live) as soon as possible, for it had a strong message to send to the world. Seemingly frightened by my severe insistence and sudden transformation, the Maestro ran to the MET programmer to see what he could do. There, a devious negotiation took place, but I had no idea of those plans until later…”
“Fast forward a couple of weeks, to the opening night of my opera, Vedere (“to see” in Italian). Anxious and excited for my production, I paced back and forth backstage. The journey of preparation had been perilous, as I wanted to work nonstop, on both the production itself, and on the broadcasting and advertising elements. I insisted that the posters and virtual announcements should be extravagant, powerful messages sent throughout the entire world. Pictures of the singers, some of the best in the world, along with excerpts of the music, and statements such as, ‘a message the world needs to hear,’ ‘the most astonishing production you have ever seen,’ ‘the opera of the century,’ and, ‘changing our future to a bright one in just one composition.’ Many thousands would be watching, whether it was from the MET opera house, movie theaters, the streets, or people’s homes. Now it boiled down to this one two hour performance. I knew he had done all he could, but I could not avoid feeling helpless as I realized that it all depended on the audience’s reaction. About half an hour before the start of the show, Maestro Gutteni came to check in on me. I was practically trembling, running to and fro to make sure all the preparations were in place.
‘Well then, my friend, how are you feeling?’ asked the Maestro.
‘What do you think?!’ I snapped back.
‘I’m sorry! I know you must be nervous for your… erm, significant statement,’ the Maestro replied. I looked up, and saw that he was shifting from foot to foot, averting my gaze. He seemed almost more worried and uncomfortable than I was. Strange.
‘I apologize for my abrupt and rude reply, I have been going over all the possible scenarios of how it could go in my head, and it is making me increasingly anxious.’ I said, carefully watching the Maestro’s expression.
‘Ah y-yes, I understand. Well… relax, I am sure it will all go… as planned,' the Maestro stammered. We stood facing each other for a minute of tense, awkward silence, during which the Maestro squirmed in place and touched his neck uncertainly.
'Welllll I must be going. Good luck tonight, Ricardo. You have done… marvelous work. Really,' he said, almost… regretfully. I scarcely had the time to reply, 'Thank you, looking forward to it,' before he was out the door, practically running down the hallway. I found his behavior very strange, as Maestro Gutteni was always in a good humor, confident, and usually much more supportive. Had I done or said something wrong? Had something gone wrong?! Was he no longer drawn to and impressed by my composition? I was in the midst of these thoughts when I heard the stage manager knock, entering and pronouncing the words I had been waiting for all my life: “It’s time, Maestro.”
“From the moment the first note was played, I was on edge, watching every move that was made both on and off stage. To my absolute confusion, the audience laughed at some of my dramatic arias, or jeered at the harsh projections of the disastrous future. Even the performers carried a gleam of mischief in their eyes. I was in agony, horrified by their reception of my message. Why did they think it was so funny?! I had not even included any humor! When the performance came to an end, I rushed on stage, beads of sweat covering my face, eyes bulging, and heart seeming as if it would burst out of my chest. Seizing a microphone, I tried to explain to the audience that they saw it from the wrong perspective, that this was really going to happen and would shatter the world. My passionate outbursts were made fun of, as I was mocked for my desperation and fruitless attempts to shake the audience out of their daze. My anger increased as it never had before, and tears clouded my vision. The authorities suddenly appeared and dragged me offstage, as I lost my mind and became more and more reckless, pleading to the world in a hoarse, devastated voice.”
“I awoke and found myself in a cell, isolated from everyone. Immediately I felt a sense of failure, but deeper than I had ever felt before. I knew I had done all I could, and yet I still felt responsible. Blacking out from grief and exhaustion, I barely heard the footsteps of the officers as they came to bring me to who knows where. I was dragged into a small room, where a psychiatrist began ‘analyzing’ me. I was so depressed and confused that I was incapable of controlling myself, especially when I found out where I was confined to: the Manhattan Psychiatric Center. For a while, I had sudden outbursts of screaming, yelling, and sobbing, unable to stop calling out to the world, to my parents, to the voices I had heard in my vision. At first, my rehab sessions were a disaster, where I was either completely (and unsettlingly) silent, or dangerously emotional. I had one responsibility, one purpose, on this Earth… everything was gone…”
“After a year of psychiatry consults and rehabilitation, I was released, and placed into the care of the Maestro. I was calm on the outside, but continually simmering on the inside. It was pure torture, and I closed in on myself as I thought I was facing punishment for my defeat. Maestro Gutteni barely spoke a word; he was always either conducting rehearsals and concerts, practicing and improvising at the piano, drinking, or bringing me meals. One day, though, he came home to me sitting on the couch, silently staring at the wall as tears streamed down my face. I was having one of my ‘moments,’ which I usually concealed in my room and dealt with the best I could by myself. The Maestro stared at me momentarily, with concern and evident anguish in his tired eyes. Apparently, he could not contain his contrition and regret any longer, and admitted to his disgusting behavior. Back when I had begged him to put on my masterpiece immediately at the MET, he, naturally, had to consult the head of programming, Julia. They argued for hours on end, as he swore he was inspired by the passionate fire in my eyes, and by the true genius of the work itself (not so much the vision, apparently). Finally, when it seemed that there was no way to alter the performance schedule, Maestro Gutteni shamefully told Julia that it would attract a lot of attention because the production could be seen as a joke: the drastically outlandish work of the lunatic composer. Finally, the programmer agreed, amused by the idea and enticed by the guarantee of monetary success. Unfortunately, as a result, much of the advertisement was accompanied by a humorous element, assuring everyone that it would be stunningly and hilariously out of proportion, the ‘comedy of the century.’ Apologizing profusely and passionately to me, the Maestro begged me for forgiveness. I was completely and utterly astounded, I could not believe the betrayal and dishonesty by the person whom I once looked up to and loved. Suddenly, many instances of his nervous hesitation since the preparation of the opera made sense. I believed in him, I was naïve. I felt my blood turn to ice as I slowly turned to look at the Maestro, and calmly said, “I forgive you.” Almost as if in a reverie, I rose from the couch and left the apartment, walking slowly towards the Hudson River. It seemed that there was nothing left for me in the world. Standing on the railing of the bridge, I felt empty and useless. One simple question crossed my mind as I hit the water, 'Why?'”
“Five years later, the first signs of a deadly virus appeared, spreading astonishingly quickly as people were stunned in disbelief. It raged across the world, causing pain, death, and destruction wherever it went. People lay crying in agony on hospital beds or even from their own homes. Paramedics slowly lost their minds as they were unable to control the constant inflow of new patients, lack of equipment, and worsening conditions. Violently protesting in the streets, large groups objected to either the government, which refused to provide and fund solutions, or to the strict confinement that was slowly, too slowly, being put into effect. Young children cried out to their parents, nowhere to be found. Universities and plazas suddenly turned into makeshift hospitals. Praying to make this hellish nightmare stop, individuals were filled with unbearable worry and uncertainty. Ditches were filled with countless lifeless bodies, surrounded by stone-faced men and women in hazmat suits, constantly adding more and more to the piles. Then, suddenly, silence. The world shut down, and grieved the heavy losses and lack of unity in the population. Most of all, though, it grieved the man who had tried to warn everyone of this catastrophe, and was in turn treated like a fool. Now, he was left walking the deserted streets, in silent introspection…”
Elias could not believe his ears as Ricardo finished his story; he saw everything so vividly, as if he was Ricardo. His whole view on life was changed, as he turned over the scenes Ricardo had described, and scoffed at the stupidity of the human ego. The whole story rang true in his ears, he knew it had happened, and he knew what a catastrophe it had turned out to be. In fact, he had lost both of his parents to the plague; music was his solace. How come –
Suddenly, it struck him.
Elias snapped his head in alarm and began “Did you –” but was rendered speechless as he found that Ricardo had vanished. A flapping sound to his left caught his attention, as he noticed an open window letting in the harsh wind. It was not open before… perhaps he had been dreaming? No, he knew that it had really happened. Looking out the window, Elias saw the streets of New York City, swarming with people and filled with noise. Nothing unusual, nobody slumped on the sidewalk from having jumped out of the window. Confused and frightened, Elias backed away from the window and heard a crunch under his foot. Looking down, Elias lifted his foot and found the Vedere score that had dropped on the floor earlier. Except, this time, there was a note scrawled on the first page. Squinting and adjusting his glasses as he picked up the score, Elias made out the words, “You know what to do. I believe in you.”