Welcome to the Storytime Blog Hop, where speculative fiction writers will entertain you with a varied buffet of short works! My offering is set in the city of Highwind, where a has-been composer seeks inspiration from the unlikeliest of Deep Night creatures. Enjoy!
“Good morning, Monsan Bevelski,” the orderly sang out, thrusting open the bedroom door. “Rise and—” He checked.
The room was empty. A swift glance around showed him the bed, not slept in; the missing cardboard slippers; the window that had been painted shut, but was now ajar.
The orderly hurried to the window, squeezing past the amputated piano on the floor. Handwritten sheets of music slipped under his rubber-soled feet.
There was no one in the narrow side-yard.
He swore. Then, running for the door, he yelled, “Korbin! He’s gone again!”
Hubert Bevelski spent the day skulking in alleys and peering around corners. The sight of a white garment across the street had him ducking behind trash cans and into crowds, his sneakiness accompanied by a clarinet solo in his head.
He couldn’t afford to be caught again. Not with the song of the spark fairies calling to him every evening. They were silent right now, in the weak, watery sunlight and the raw wind, but they would wake soon.
And when they did, he would be ready for them.
Hubert stuck his hands into the pockets of the ratty patchwork dressing gown that did double duty as a coat. Underneath, he wore his nightshirt and loose trousers. His slippers had long since disintegrated; he’d tied sacking material around his feet.
He didn’t look much different from the dozens of shabby old men one found all over Highwind. So what if he could barely feel his feet, wet from the icy slush on the roads and sidewalks?
He’d give both his legs for the spark fairies’ music.
Only it could fill the years-old hole gnawing at his soul.
Past midday, his stomach growled, a bass rumble. Hubert started, wonderingly.
Ah, yes. He needed food, didn’t he?
Hubert extracted a piece of sticky toffee, covered in lint, from his pocket. He popped it into his mouth, and sucked contentedly.
Then he heard it.
A snatch of song, faint and faraway.
Head up, shaggy grey hair lifting in the breeze, he scented the air like a hound on the hunt.
Hubert plowed into the street. From the corner of his eye, he saw the horse half-rear to a stop, eyes rolling, sweat flying. Saw the driver’s mouth open in a shout, saw the wheel grate against the curb as the carriage body bounced to a halt.
He ignored it all, gained the pavement, and left the mayhem behind.
The fairies were calling.
A stray dog bared its teeth at him as he crossed a narrow street stinking of garbage. Slime seeped through his improvised shoes. He came to a set of cramped stone stairs, dark and slick.
Dusk had fallen in folds, like a midnight cloak, over the city. Banish lights came on, but not here. Not in this part of the city.
Spark fairies spiraled around him, then flew off. Their individual voices, tinny with distance, came and went. A thrill went over Hubert.
There was purpose to their movements. There was a song in their buzzing.
He picked up his pace, stumbling in his haste. More and more spark fairies flew past, intent on their destination. None tried to creep into his nostrils, to crawl into his mouth, to nip at his ears.
A wriggle of movement caught his attention. There, in front of a townhouse, its shutters closed against the cold, was a heat stick pushed into the top of a gate. Three spark fairies were stuck in the flypaper around it. Their brethren ignored the trio’s struggles.
Hubert didn’t. With careful fingers, he plucked each fairy off the paper and set it loose on the wind. Their delicate bodies were vaguely humanoid, but a close examination through a magnifying lens would reveal large, buggy eyes, glowing skin, and proboscis mouth parts, like a butterfly’s.
The spark fairies streamed across the streets in rivers of gold flakes. Their song was high and cold and sweet, like the flavored ices he had eaten with young women on picnics long past. It threaded itself into his soul, not quite whole and coherent, but coming together.
Yes, he could finally hear how the flutes would mimic their piping, how the violins would take up that wail. He knew just where he would place this music. His fingers itched to grab the greasy paper and stubby pencil in his pocket.
No. Listen first.
He came to a pond, unexpected, small, and secretive, sunk low into Highwind, surrounded by blank stone walls. The fairies swarmed over its still surface, giving it a greenish glow.
No. The glow came from beneath the dark waters.
Another song joined the spark fairies, something lower and softer, shading their music with shadows and depth. The fairies trembled above the surface, hanging like a golden mist.
Hundreds, thousands, of fairies came together to form something more than the sum of the parts. The splintered song took shape.
Hubert watched, awed. The form that hung above the glowing pond was that of a woman. See, here her flowing hair, there the swell of her breast, down below the flutter of her gown. As he watched, spark fairies settled into the lines of her face, forming delicate features, glowing gentle eyes, lips half-open to sing.
The crescendo was coming. He knew it in his bones. The presentiment thrummed through his soul, the song he craved, the one that would inspire the ending of his unfinished symphony…
Projectiles flew over the pond. The woman broke apart as spark fairies fled, her features running like wax, great gaping holes appearing in her gown. Her song stretched into a thin thread, vanished in a whine and a buzz.
The glow disappeared. Noxious smoke filled the corner; the spark fairies unlucky to be trapped in it smothered, smoked, and fell in ashes on to the pond.
Hubert Bevelski, a void in his soul where the music had been, stood on the steps, bewildered.
“There you are, Monsan Bevelski!” The orderly put a heavy hand on the composer’s thin shoulder. “What a chase you’ve led us on all day!” His voice was still cheery, but his grip was unyielding.
The composer hung his head and said nothing.
Korbin snorted. “Wandered right into a swarm of spark fairies. He’d be dead if we were late by a few minutes. Actually, it might’ve been better if we had been.”
The other made a shushing motion with his free hand. Korbin’s voice took on a whiny note. “Oh, give over, do, Boris! He can’t hear anything anyway. Look what’s become of Highwind’s most celebrated composer: a deaf old man who couldn’t finish his tenth symphony in twenty years, living on the city’s charity.”
Boris darted a glance at the sagging composer. He was in his docile mood. “Well, watch your mouth around others, Korbin. Come on, let’s take him home.” He steered Hubert over to the stone steps, then carefully helped the older man up them. The day’s exertions had caught up to Bevelski; he shuffled up the stairs, leaning heavily on Boris for support. There was a tremble in his hands.
What was even worse, the spark in his eyes was gone.
Korbin skipped ahead, ribbons fluttering, bouncing on his toes in impatience. “I hear Ed Wyrd’s been tapped to finish that blasted symphony. We could be hearing it in the Grand Musicale Hall as early as next spring. Shall we tell Bevelski, do you think?” Malicious laughter danced in his eyes.
“Hush, Korbin,” said Boris, exasperated. “Have some respect, at least.”
“Pshaw!” said Korbin, unrepressed.
Arguing, the pair shepherded their charge to the safe road, and from there to the city-run nursing home.
Behind them, spark fairies buzzed uncertainly in the air. There was something they had to do… some purpose…
The feeling diminished, winked out. Hunger, that familiar friend, leapt to fill the space.
The fairies scattered in search of blood and heat.
The surface of the pond trembled. Wavelets lapped against the sides with a half-sob, half-sigh. A small wind skimmed over it, carrying faint words:
The waters stilled.
I hope you enjoyed this story! If you like my fiction, sign up for my mailing list. And do check out the others in this blog hop:
K. A. Petentler: The Twisted Tale of Isabel
Shana Blueming: Paper & Glue
Amy Keeley: To Be Prepared For Chocolate
Cherie “Jade” Arbuckle: After I Died
Karen Lynn: The Family Book
Angela Wooldridge: An Alternative to Frog
Thea van Diepen: Are You Sure It’s That Way?
Paula de Carvalho: Body Double
Kris Bowser: Tantrums
Virginia McClain: Rakko’s Storm
Grace Robinette: Georg Grembl
Elizabeth McCleary: The Door
Dale Cozort: Two Letters In A Fireproof Box
Katharina Gerlach: Canned Food