It’s not like any instrument I’ve ever seen. Or rather, it is, but it’s as if I’m looking at its reflection in a warped mirror.
“I can’t play that,” I tell our Host.
His gaze feels like how I imagine it must be like when an anvil is dropped on your head. “Are you not a Cellist?”
“I am,” I say. “But that instrument looks more like a bass.” And not a double bass, either, I think. More like a quadrupal – no – octupal – bass.
“And do you know how to play a bass?”
“In theory. A normal one anyway. I mean the strings are different, tuned in fourths instead of fifths, and G is the high string, but… the physics are the same. But this one… In order to play it, I’d need at least two more hands. Maybe three.”
“That can be arranged,” the Host replies, as blandly as if I’d asked for a glass of water.
A shiver goes through me. When I agreed to sub for my friend Karl on this gig, I had no idea what I was getting into. All I’d been told was to show up at the mansion on Aerie Drive just after dusk, and to wear black.
“It can?” I ask, inwardly pleased that my voice remains steady. (I’d been certain I would squeak.)
The word lasts three times as long as it should, and then I feel it… my body is changing. My shoulders and rib cage are expanding and suddenly instead of the two arms I was born with, I have six, and when I move them, it’s as if I’ve always had six.
“I don’t know what to say,” I tell the Host.
“Say nothing, Cellist. Just play.”
And suddenly the instrument makes sense, with its eighteen pegs and eighteen strings. I’m playing chords I never knew existed, and my body just knows what to do, where to put my fingers. The music and I are one being, and I feel like I’m flying, like I’m connected to the universe and it’s energizing me with every stroke of the bow, every press of my fingers against the wire and the wood.
When I finish my impromptu audition, my heart is racing and I’m breathing hard, and I can feel sweat on my brow and under all of my arms, but I don’t ask for feedback.
I don’t have to.
The Host remains silent for a long moment. When I think a moment can’t possibly be stretched any thinner he speaks the word “Brilliant.” The final ‘t’ is almost its own syllable. “Follow me to your room. You’ll do well here.”
I don’t mention that I thought this was a one-night gig, or that I have an apartment waiting for me. Somehow, I know I’ll never be going back to it. I belong here, now.
Here where the music will never stop, and there’s an instrument only I can play.