So a little introduction to this story, I originally wrote this story to try and be published in a book of short stories entitled The Machine of Death. When it did not get selected, the story got pushed into the back of my hard drive until one of my friends discovered this site. I very much like the story and think it has potential but it need something more than what I can't give it. I would appreciate any and all feedback as well as anybody willing to develop their own ideas around this story to give it new life. Thank you for your time and enjoy.
It was supposed to be a joke. We would all use the machine and laugh about how uninteresting our deaths would be. Inevitably forgetting them until we hit that age when people usually start to fear their own mortality, because realistically, people in their twenties like us are invincible, right? That isn’t how it played out though. Well, sure, most came out with cancer or natural causes or even the strange case of a hair implant mishaps, but none of us could have guessed the card that I held in my hand.
Music. It said music, the life-giving force for mankind, specifically, twenty-something-year-olds. I’d heard about the machine giving cryptic messages and about it never being wrong, but how can music kill you? I elected to not tell my friends my strange little secret; stating that diabetes was my undoing and cursing the existence of those blasted Butterfingers. I didn’t feel like discussing this matter with anyone then, or maybe ever. I just hoped that it would soon be a distant memory. Music, why did it have to be music?
The day ventured rather smoothly after we left the hole in the wall convenience store where the oracle in a box resided. We joked and laughed and ate lunch but I couldn’t tell you any specifics; I was too trapped in my own mind. We lived exciting lives roughly two months out of the year, by taking our own version of exotic vacations to sometimes-sunny San Francisco, but mostly we just did our normal routine. My friends never seemed to notice when I was bothered or maybe they just didn’t care. For whatever the reason I am glad I was allowed keep this secret locked where it was. I arrived home roughly around 1 AM and that was where a feeling of dread began to sink in.
Entering my apartment I could feel my heart drop like I missed the floor and was about to free-fall into an infinite abyss. After that moment my apartment was never really the same. It could never be the shrine that it had once been. If you were to scan the area back then, it would have looked like a mess, but to me it was my temple and things were put in their proper place. Posters hung improperly because it was more organic with their smiling faces giving a full 360-degree comforting feeling now were irritatingly unorganized. I’d never realized how ugly Zooey Deschanel and Missy Higgins were. How could I not notice that they looked like the reincarnation of some 16th century demon? I looked to the glass table that I believed cleverly showcased CD covers to prove I didn’t just download my collection off of the Internet, even though I never used the CDs to actually listen to the music. How could that be clever? It was as if I was giving these people permission to poison any drink I left on there while I was distracted by some hypnotic song playing on the television. Lastly, was the towers of CD cases littered throughout the apartment that I believed gave an elitist image, now gave me the feel of a Zelda-like video game with the hope that the pillar would give me enough time to dodge as I rolled away from it.
As anxious as I was about it, I somehow made my way to my mp3 player, desperately looking for any song that could calm me down. It was hard to be calm when every shriek of these horrible harpies spewed out of my trendy speakers. Even a song commanding me to Be Calm by a band called Fun caused more anxiety than all the others. Songs that used to be soothing and uplifting became threats. Regina Spektor, a singer I highly respected, was telling me to “wear a scarf just like a noose” and that Carbon Monoxide was going to put me to sleep. Her voice had been the prettiest of them all, but my mind pushed her from that gilded angelic throne, down into the gutter with the other nightmares. The final straw had to be Joanna Newsom. The prized possession of every underground music lover now was just a shriek of a banshee drowning out any respectable sound that might be in there. All I could do was retreat to my bedroom from the cochaphony that was once my livingroom.
But I was too locked in my head to relax. Even in my bedroom, there were iconic figures staring at me, subtly plotting my demise. This sent my mind spinning. How would it happen? Would it hurt? How could I die? I’m so young! I knew full well that the time or place of my end was a mystery. This fear led to anger. I burst out:
“Remember how I supported you Kurt, after you lost your face to a deadly shotgun blast? Or you, Max Bemis, when you went crazy and had to be hospitalized? All you drunks and addicts just made money the easiest way you could, used me so you could make a career out of it and get a high. Well I am done! I am through with you people!”
I knew I wouldn’t get any rest with these distractions, so I got up and threw any trace of music into my car with the full intention of disposing of it at my local record store. Even though music betrayed me, I had a harder time turning my back on it than it did me. With it out of my vicinity, I was finally able to get a few hours sleep.
You never really notice external music until you turn off your own. As I rode in silence, I could hear the clanging of a nearby ice-cream truck bringing sudden joy to everyone but me. As with the ringing of the junk food siren, I realized the bumps in the road made a sufficient bass sound to compliment the cars passing the opposite direction. I didn’t understand how everything could be producing some sort of rhythm. It seemed like something a former music lover would have noticed. I eventually made it to the run down parking lot of my old church, “Vintage Record Vault.” It was just as dilapidated as it was last week, but this time I noticed the flaws as they were, not some former hideaway only a few knew about. I even felt glad that this would be the last time I would be entering my former holy place.
Opening the trunk was a little nerve-racking, but I knew it needed to be done, so I grabbed as much as I could and made my way to the door. I was careful to avoid any and all uneven cracks thinking perhaps I’d die by slicing my throat on an exposed or cracked CD. Through my careful maneuvering, I had made it to the door with no error, and with some clever positioning I was able to open the door perfectly fine.
I couldn’t help but feel excited upon entering this place. So many CDs, records and posters of all the things I loved until the sheer terror came crashing down. I was in the one place that I should never have entered after the prediction. Everything was a weapon in this place and I was the target. I just kept muttering, “Everything will be alright” as I shuffled to the countertop, not really paying attention to where I was going. That is until I heard her say, “Why, hello there.”
“Umm, Hello?” she began again as I looked up in sheer terror. The first image of her face that I can remember was that weird, squished look people give you when they think you have gone nuts. That alleviated some of my stress as I finished my task. Although it was hard to not take notice of her attractive features, how the dust flecks in the small beams of light only accentuated her already light green eyes, or, even though you could only make out half of her, you could tell her nimble frame was due to a mixture of good genetics as well as some sort of outdoors activity. “Are you alright?”, she tried to get my attention for a third time.
“I… I’d like to get rid of this stuff” I replied.
“Well let’s see what you got here.” I slid one of the boxes across the counter. She opened it quickly and dove into the box without a care in the world. “So why would you want to get rid of all this great stuff?” she said, holding a stack of Sufjan Stevens EPs and looked at me with concern.
“I just can’t keep them. I just don’t like this kind of music anymore,” I responded.
She looked at me, smiled, and said, “I highly doubt that.”
“W…why do you say that?” I stuttered feeling my anxiety beginning to return.
She again smiled and said, “Before I answer that, do you know my name?”
I couldn’t answer her question. I believed this was the first encounter I had with her, but I was mistaken. I believed I was observant person and if I cannot remember a simple female name, especially a cute one at that, I was clearly wrong. So I was left with the only option I had left, “No, I do not.”
“That’s what I thought” she replied joyously “I’ve worked this register everyday for about three months and I noticed you from the beginning. You come in at least once a week, but usually more, and peruse the entire store. And when you come up to pay you are so enthralled by what you found, you never even pay attention to the small talk I try to start with you.”
I couldn’t believe I did that. All I could muster in return was a pathetic “I’m sorry.”
She just laughed it off and replied, “Don’t be. I found it cute that someone could be so happy with music that they didn’t even notice a girl trying to hit on them. I just brought it up to show why I was worried that you were getting rid of your collection.”
I was baffled by her response. The only thing I could say back was “I was being flirted with?”
“No” she responded, “You were being flirted at. You can’t be flirted with if you don’t notice the other person trying to talk to you.”
Again all I could say was, “I’m sorry.”
Once again she chuckled it off and said, “Don’t worry about it.”
“But with that being said,” She began, “we can’t buy what you’ve brought here.”
“Why not?” I quickly responded, feeling like I could never get rid of this disease that would eventually cause my extinction. “Then I will just toss this stuff in the garbage on my way out.”
“I also can’t let you do that,” she said, still smiling.
“Why not?” I asked, knowing she could feel my frustration.
“Because I, as a music lover, can’t let you throw away a perfectly good Elliot Smith or Mumford and Sons CD.”, she blocked me once again.
I started to get angry, “Well then you take it!”
“I own all these CDs.” she calmly answered.
My volume started to get higher, “Well what am I supposed to do with them?”
She noticed her manager was on his way over and started to panic because not only was I being loud, but she was also preventing other customers from completing their purchases. In a panic, she stated, “Listen, give me a chance to show you why you need to keep your music and if I can’t, I will buy every CD you have, even less than respectable Avril Lavigne CDs, at full price. Deal?” I believed there was no way she could persuade me to take back this music and the money from the sale would be nice, so I easily agreed to her terms.
“Alright,” she started with a reluctant smile, “leave your collection here and come pick me after work so we can discuss this issue in more detail, okay?” I agreed and even though I felt like I succeeded, I was still very cautious with the contents of the boxes. She almost looked astonished at the amount of stuff I had brought into this establishment and turned to me one last time.
“So be here at 4:30 to pick me up and we will get all this mess sorted out, alright?” To make sure, she wrote the time and her number on my hand, as well as the name I never seemed to get, Kristen.
I was still rather confident driving back to the Vintage Record Vault, knowing that I would more than likely be leaving that night with money rather than the garbage I drove there with that morning. The confidence allowed me to bypass rhythmic sounds without a care, that when combined they could have made death come for me. This calmness remained as I pulled into the parking lot; it was the same calm that I had as when I first found this former oasis. I remember you could see her sitting on the porch of the Vault waiting for my arrival. The first thing I noticed was that the record shop’s poor lighting did the girl no justice; when you got her in the light, you could notice how beautiful she was. Her red hair was only accentuated by her seemingly promiscuous sundress and her alabaster skin appeared as if she had never gone in the sun until that moment. Beside her appearance though, you could tell immediately by her demeanor that she was all joy, her smile was genuine. I don’t know if I had ever seen that before. I remember being more confused than anything else as I got out of my car.
“It’s about time you got here!” Kristen started.
“I’m sorry. I thought I was on time?” I replied.
She had just chuckled off my response and said, “Give me your keys.”
“Why?” I interjected, “I thought we were just going to discuss why I needed to keep something I don’t want to keep.”
“Yes, but in order to discuss it we need to go to a specific location and I know where we are going. So give me the keys,” she said persistently with her hand outstretched. I’d never been one for confrontation, so I gave her the keys so we could be on our way. She graciously took them, but gave that smile that would become familiar, the one she gave me every time she got her way.
The car ride began a little awkwardly, since I no longer turned on the radio and I was not one to start conversations. She had no problem turning on the radio. Why would she? She wasn’t the one who would die by this. No matter the confidence I obtained by a belief that I had beat the machine, I still couldn’t help but get anxious.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
As usual, I replied with “I’m just fine.” She gave me a weird facial expression in return, but turned down the radio so it was nearly silent. It was rather funny since I used to cherish that low background music so much when it wasn’t going to kill me.
“So what’s your favorite song?” she asked
“You mean what was my favorite song?” I corrected as she took a left.
“Sure… whichever.” she brushed off my response as she quickly passed a car on a two-lane highway. It became apparent that I should have driven us. I would have been terrified if I didn’t already know the readout of the machine.
“Ummm… I guess I used to enjoy Regina Spektor’s cover of ‘Hallelujah’ or Nirvana’s cover of ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night’ the most.”
“Why is that?”
“Well… I guess at the time they had the most pas…” I was cut off as she took a hard right around the banking two-lane highway. “Would you like to pull over so I can drive?” I asked
“No, and don’t change the subject.”
“Well… Like I said they help the most passion.” I finished.
“And why don’t you like them anymore?”
“I just don’t like them anymore… And what about you?” I changed the subject away from myself.
“I think if I’d have to pick I would go with The Weepies song ‘Hideaway’ or The Paper Raincoat’s song ‘The Same Old Things’.”
“I’ve never heard of those bands.”
She turned to me nearly crashing into the guard railing and replied, “What!? They are amazing! When I give you back your collection I’ll give you a copy of both.”
“No it’s okay.” was all I could muster as I tried to get my heartbeat back to its normal rhythm.
She could see I was grabbing the ‘Oh shit bar’ and said, “Get over yourself we’re almost there.” and gave me an adorable smile, though I really wished she’d focus on the road. She was right though, a couple more near-death turns and she screeched to a halt in a dirt parking lot in front of trail into the woods.
“Alright, let’s get going.” she said without even waiting for me to exit the car. By the time I got, she had gotten considerable distance down the trail, but rather than race to catch up to her, I opted to take this time to reflect. I remember how much I used to love walking these places with headphones in my ears. I would peer into the distance, nearly becoming one with the music. The trees were very beautiful. It had been spring so everything was green around us. There had been a creek to my left; a remnant of the rain we usually got in this area. Pretty much, I use to believe that any weather was enhanced if headphones were in my ears.
I had almost caught up to Kristen but it was more enjoyable to watch her. The path had turned onto old railway with a river winding through the tree line, on the opposite side were trees that led up a hill all the way to the road we had just came from. She had balanced herself on one of the rails, which was quite an adorable sight to see. The wind gently blew her short red hair and the sunlight played upon her dark green print sundress that seemed as if it were straight out of the 60’s. It took all my might to not put a soundtrack to this moment.
She made a left and started to transverse down the hill toward the river. Looking back, I don’t know why I followed her, I guess it didn’t matter since it was unrealistic that music could follow me that far into the wilderness. As I passed through the last of the brush and could see the river clearly, she jumped out and said, “Welcome to the Garden of Eden.”
“Why is it called that?” I asked
“I don’t know…” she answered “but it makes a great introduction though, right?”
“I suppose that makes sense.”
She had sat on a rock that was obviously meant for both of us, but I opted at the time to sit on another rock. That did not detoured her attempts because she had just moved to where I was sitting, a spot that was not meant for two people. I picked myself off of the dirt and joined her smiling face on the rock she initially intended us to be on. We were so close that I could smell her fragrance and in that moment I knew it was one of the few times I have felt perfectly calm.
“So,” she began, “why give up something that you had cherished so much?”
“I think I just outgrew it.” was the quickest excuse that I could come up with.
“That makes no sense. How can you outgrow something that had caused you so much joy?”
“Because it terrifies me!”
“How can you be terrified by music?” she asked looking at me quite confused.
“It is going to kill me.“
“I repeat, that makes no sense. How is it going to kill you?”
“I have no idea! All I know is that machine gave me a card that said music was the reason I was going to die.” I waited for her response that what I said was lunacy or that the machine was a hoax or even that I was being a baby but what I got was,
“That’s so cool!”
I remember that I could only reply with “Huh?”
“You don’t know how cool it is to die by something like music? I wish I could die in such an awesome way!”
“Wouldn’t you be afraid of the pain or that your life is limited?”
“Not at all! We are all going to die one day you might as well have a good ending.”
“So how are you supposed to go?”
“I got car accident. How lame is that?” I had opted to not answer but thought; “Car accident makes a lot of sense.” pretty loudly. “But we are digressing, so why are you not cherishing music while you still have time with it?”
“Because it has betrayed me. I have given it time, money, and love and in the end it has betrayed me.”
She had rummaged through her purse and said “Hold up.” Next think I know I had ear-buds in my ears and had no chance to protest before she turned on her music. It was Paper Raincoat’s ‘Don’t Be Afraid’. I tried to protest but she just held her hands over my ears so I was forced to hear the lyrics.
“Don’t be afraid of what you want, still staring at the skyline from the riverfront, buildings like mirrors reflect back on us, don’t be afraid of what you want. Don’t be afraid to start a fight, you’ll never see them swinging at you from behind, here let me see that, come into the light, don’t be afraid to start a fight.”
I had been staring into her eyes the entire time and with her smile I had stepped out of my boundary, leaned in, and kissed her.
“If you cross your fingers, ghosts will pass right through. From across the river, I’ll watch over you. Don’t be afraid of what you are, the beauty’s in the contrast of your clashing parts, stars shine the brightest when everything goes dark, don’t be afraid of what you are.”
She had moved her hands from my ears to meet my hands and in that moment we were one with each other and the music.
“If you cross your fingers, ghosts will pass right through. And across the river, I will wait for you. So call it out, find the sound, the world is waiting, then I’ll be here, In the glare of sunlight fading, out.”
She had parted just as the song was ending just to see my happy face and I was allowed to view hers right back.
“If you try to hide it, it only weighs you down. Let the light surround it, exposing all you’ve found.”
I had lowered the ear-buds just as she said, “Now lets get your music back into your apartment.”
Even now I’m smiling and I remember just replying with mediocre “Okay.” but it was enough.
We had roughly been married for two years and I hadn’t regretted it at all. The feeling I had everyday waking up to this person next to me who actually cared about me as much I cared about her was unexplainable. She had pulled me back to not only how I was before I used the machine but in a better state than I had ever been. I suppose it was very unnerving, but at the time I loved to watch her wake up and greet the world.
“Why hello there.” she said as she gave me a groggy smile.
“Hello. How did you sleep?”
“Wonderful as always and you?” she asked as she started getting up.
“Always good as long as you are next to me.” I said. She had smiled and walked to the kitchen to start her morning routine. I had opted to lay back down and attempt to get a few more minutes rest but she had already turned on turn on some music, that days choice was Iron and Wines ‘Boy with a Coin’ telling me to get out of bed. We were going to have a big day that day anyway.
Getting ready was always quite enjoyable as long as my wife was around. Good songs were on and I got to slowly get ready as she made breakfast. I also always liked that she would dance around in excitement when we both had days off and decided to go out for adventures. I liked to lean in close and kiss her on the cheek before I did anything in the morning.
After finishing the tasks of that day, we both headed to the car. Driving was always a delicate subject because Kristen loved to drive, but since her reading was car crash, no insurance would cover her. That is not to say she didn’t get her way sometimes but for the most part I was the one who was behind the wheel. Her riding as copilot wasn’t that bad for her either though, since she loved to man the radio as much as I did. For that particular day she decided it was best to listen to The Weepies’ ‘Say I Am You’ and as always I agreed.
The beach was always cool and comforting where we used to live. I remember we set up our little section of the sand and began relaxing. The feeling of her heartbeat was always so comforting. It always brought us back that one moment when we were one with the music and with each other. Sharing an ear-bud apiece, we listened to ‘Melt Away’ by Maggi, Pierce, and E.J. and I held her tight as she did the same to me. We fell asleep this way I had always enjoyed this so much.
I had awoken to her walking through the water and rather get up to join her I elected to watch her in all her elegant form. Turning the mp3 player to Sean Hayes’ ‘Garden’ and just enjoyed the scene
“When the morning breaks, we will be out walking. We will watch the sun rise above the wall.” She was staring off into the sky not focused on anything, while she slowly kicks up some water nearly hitting her knee length flower printed yellow sundress. The sun is setting so the reds, yellows, and oranges mixed with her already scarlet hair to make it darker then it had ever been before.
“We will ask ourselves what road to take. We will catch our hearts. You and I decide. Where to take our journey? How high to fly? Love to love our turning. You and I.” She was moving her hands through the water so elegantly and carelessly and she had always this smile that you could tell that her own little world was much happier then the real one.
“Take the road we take, then we improvise. When the road, it breaks, there will be surprises.” She noticed I was watching her and began to make her way back to me.
“Search your heart with mine. You and I decide.” At that point I was singing with the song right as she had gotten back to me.
“Hey creeper. How was your nap?”
“Refreshing” I said with a smile.
She said, “Come on get up” as she is already pulling me off my backside, “I found something I needed to show you.” She guided me like she was still a little child who found an unexplainable treasure and what a treasure it was. A natural bridge that lead nowhere in specific, but at that particular time the sun was setting right through it which was spectacularly beautiful.
“Let’s go underneath it!” she exclaimed pulling me with her into the cold water that flows through it. We stood there looking into each other’s eyes with the sun setting to the side of us as if we were posing for some sappy photograph. As I looked in into her bright green eyes, I smiled and said, “Thank you for saving me.” She smiled; leaned in close, and kissed the sun had gone down.
We held hands as we headed to the car, still enjoying how are lives have developed to this point. She didn’t even argue about who got to drive home but not two seconds after I pulled the keys out of my pocket, she had already grabbed them and was already at the driver seat. How could I resist? She seemed so pleased that she would be able to drive. As she drove, I put on Regina Spektor’s ‘Begin to Hope’ and turned to my favorite song of the album, Samson. The windows were down allowing us to feel the cool night air. I turned to look and smile at my beautiful wife but when I turned back all I saw was headlights.
I don’t remember much of that night but it had all hit me when I woke up in the hospital bed. Apparently, a drunk driver thought it appropriate to occupy the same lane that we were in. I guess Kristen had turned the car so she had taken most of the force of the crash. I wish she had turned it to my side. The force had caused us not only to spin, but also flip. They assured me her death was not only instantaneous, but painless. I felt every horrible emotion I could without feeling anything at all. Friends and family showed up to send me their condolences and I thanked them with a smile on my face. They hadn’t earned the right, that she had, to see my emotions. One by one, they left my side. I guess they had all reached the community service quota for the day. I was rather glad, though them being there was just as painful as no one there at all. I waited a little while after the last person left before I decided to check myself out and make my way home. I just wanted to be with my thoughts.
Rather then find someone to drive me home, I decided to walk the four or five miles back to the apartment. I tried to keep my mind quiet. I wanted to not feel anything but as she came to my mind, the city became its own home movie. Showing me every place I had enjoyed being with her when she was alive. Realizing she was gone, there was no stopping the good she had done for me to turn. Adele’s ‘Hometown Glory’ rushed into my mind and it became hard to withhold the tears.
Parks where we relaxed, but will never get a chance to again. Restaurants, that were attended so much that orders were memorized, would have to find new couples to house. A variety of record store would lose their luster because I no longer had my angel there to protect me. The closer I had gotten to home, the more I realized our couple’s path was just a trail to an apartment. Our apartment. Our home. I didn’t want to go inside.
As the door creaked open, I got a whiff of all the smells that culminated my wife, my love, my life and I just couldn’t hold the tears back any longer. What was I going to do? How will I be able to survive?
I stumbled inside to escape the outside world but I didn’t realize that my interior world was just as fractured. There were reminders of her everywhere. Pictures, clothing, her decorum made events play, like motion pictures, I could see events that only we knew and participated in. I was in a space that was no longer ours. I should have right then allowed music to take me to my final resting place but I didn’t. I just sat there and cried. Mourning the loss of the perfection I was given but even then I could hear her. Telling me not to give up. Telling me to be happy.
And here we are, a year later from the incident, but I’m still here. A little worse for wear mind you but I’m still here. Her gravestone sits atop a solitary hill underneath a lone oak tree over looking a very nice pond. They allowed me to build a makeshift bench. I plan on showing her new music and books so she doesn’t fall behind on the times. And the walk is not that far so I plan on being here as much as possible.
“I think you will like it here Kristen. Everyday is still a challenge without you by my side but you have given me the strength to preserve against all odds. I will continue to enjoy music as much as you do even after it brings me to the grave. I still very much miss you and hope one day I will be able to see you face to face again but right now all I can say is thank you. You saved me and you will always be my one and only. So bye for now but I will be with you again soon, okay?”
And with that I turn around put her headphones on and get lost to our song.
“Oh where, oh where could my baby be? The lord took her away from me. She’s gone to heaven so I got to be good. So I can seem my baby when I leave this world…”
Created: Aug 15, 2012rzurak Document Media