Lacrimosa Dies Illa

Lacrimosa Dies Illa

A Story by gwyndolin
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A young man bleeds over his harp strings for an audience of one.

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The harp was made of glass.

The harp was made of glass, and its crown fanned up high into wings, feathered and carved to unfurl. In the lights of the stage the glass cascaded fractals across the pale oak as though Gabriel were to descend upon the audience and bless them with his holy message. Blessed and yet profane at the same time, it stood there, rooted to the wood. No one has ever moved it, no one has ever left it out to carry dust. It was the crown jewel of the theater. It was the instrument that could satiate the hungry crowds, that could fill the belly of the beastly theater until it was gorged, but nobody had ever finished a song.

Jacob gazed out past the heavy white curtains to the dark seats of the theater. Behind the percussion of his heart, it felt like he was going deaf to other noises. Like the only thing he could hear was the anxiety in his chest. He drew back, and settled to pace. His hands drew to his tie, his suit, his cuff-links. His fingers dusted through his dark-brown hair, and then again to correct the mess he made of it. His heart shouldn’t have been beating this hard, and yet he couldn’t shake the thrum. Back behind the curtains, he was safe. He wasn’t lamb to a slaughter that spanned generations of his family line. 

In his head, he could count the deaths of his forefathers. He could count down to the moment that led him here. Back behind the curtain Jacob quietly lamented that harp, and wondered how long it took for his father’s blood to be washed from the beastly instrument that everyone marveled at so reverently. Jacob could spend eternity wondering, but tonight was his turn to be the lamb. With one final breath, he stepped onto the stage. His footsteps felt heavy on the wood, and the sound felt hollow in the empty theater that sat so dark around him.

The glass harp seemed like it was calling him. Jacob felt like he could hear the tears shed by his ancestors, like he could hear their screams. Again his heart hammered, percussion, the bass drum of his rhythm. Still, he sat there before it. Still, his fingers draped over the strings, trembling before they were able to lay against them. In the silence, he drew in a breath.

“Lacrimosa Dies Illa,” he announced to nobody, to nothing, to the hungry theater. And then he began to play.

The harp made of glass had strings made of sharp wire. Jacob played past the small cuts beginning to form in his skin, letting his heart guide the melody out of his hands. Down the pale wire his blood ran, staining the strings, and slicking the pedals. The noise of the harp was ethereal, ringing through the glass with each pluck and catapulting the music against every corner of the room. With the ring came the beating of his heart again, like a metronome only evened by the music he played. Jacob played with his eyes closed because it made it easier to isolate.

Jacob played with his eyes closed so he could feel the music through his blood-stained fingers, into his nerves and against his bones. There was only him, the music, and the way he felt deep inside. Resentment, fear, powerful fury and sorrow all locked into his soul flowed out. He played with his eyes closed so he could feel the gentle embrace of his father, so that he could feel his father guiding his hands as though he were a child again. He played with his eyes closed so he could hear his grandmother’s favorite lullaby in the wind. In the dark, while Jacob played with his eyes closed tight, the hungry audience opened its eyes.

He plucked and plucked, heavy, heartbroken, breaking. Pain coursed through his fingers while the scent of blood roused the dark beast that starved in the middle of the theater. There, lifting from silk pillows and drawing away curtains from itself, it rose: a beast, monstrous and without end, with long arms stretched leathery and tight with the curvature of wings. Curled claws pressed to the floorboards of the stage. Jacob could feel its breath as it leaned in close, looming there above him, but still he played, eyes closed and heart beating for something greater than just survival.

Three minutes, he thought to himself. The stage creaked with effort around him as the hungry audience curled itself against the stage. Like a predator to a meal, it circled. Sniffing, breathing, waiting. Waiting for the song to end, to be cut short. Because the song was always cut short. Because how boring it always is, never to see the end of the show. 

How boring.

Two minutes.

Jacob’s fingers felt as though they may fall off, but he played faster anyway. He played harder, heavier. He opened his eyes to see two more bearing into him. Fangs bared, teeth gnarled and dripping with saliva. There, forehead to forehead, Jacob met the hungry audience, but still he played. Two minutes became one, one minute became seconds and then it was over. Finally, each chord struck with revenge, with admiration, with awe, it was over. He had always been told to close his eyes so that he didn’t have to see the hungry audience waiting to devour him, but Jacob found himself staring into something that he had never seen before.

When Jacob stilled the strings, and when the sound of glassy hums left the theater, the only sound left was his heartbeat. His fingers shook numb with agony but still, he couldn’t look away. He watched in cruel reverence as the body before him shrunk, as wings retracted and bones re-positioned themselves. In a way, it was beautiful. In a way, the man before him was beautiful, with silky orange hair that had paled past eternity and red eyes that shone like polished rubies. Clawed fingers draped over his cheek, and his breath was sweet still with the blood of his father and his ancestors before him. 

“Again,” breathed the pale one. Encore, his desperate, hungry heart screamed.

So Jacob played until the pale one was glutted to exhaustion, and once more the hungry theater rested peacefully into eternity.

© 2020 gwyndolin


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I looked at this and your other writing, and there’s a common thread: You’re writing this as if making a report. One declarative sentence follows another, talking about the events as dispassionately as reading a shopping list.

Think of yourself reading a horror story. At some point the protagonist will feel terror. Do you want to learn of that via a sentence that says: “Samuel felt terror claw at his mind as he descended into the dark basement?” Or do you want the author to terrorize you, and make YOU afraid to turn off the lights?

We don’t read fiction to learn the details of a fictional person’s life. We want to live it, vicariously, in real time. We want to be made to feel and care, not simply know. As E. L. Doctorow put it: “Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader. Not the fact that it’s raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.” And no way in hell can the writing skills we were given in school do that. In this case, you're trying to accomplish this via a cascade of overly vivid language that's getting close to purple-prose.

When we write a story, your reader expects it be in the viewpoint of the protagonist, and be more than a list of, “This happened…then that happened…and after that…”

Had you, for example, placed yourself into HIS viewpoint as you wrote, knowing the situation as him, you would never had said, “The harp made of glass had strings made of sharp wire.” Why?

1. To him it’s not “The harp made of glass.” As he uses it, it’s “the harp.” This is the fifth time you’ve told the reader what it’s made of. So this is you talking to the reader, not him playing. And to him this wouldn’t be the first time he experienced the feelings.
2. Were you him you’d know that even if it was possible to make a string “sharp,” he could never practice with it because he’d have to wait a week or so between using it and using any harp till the wounds healed. But you needed him to play as he did, not as a real person, but as a concept, so you make the writing poetic and pretty, and pile it on, at the expense of his humanity, and intelligence.

That doesn’t mean the story shouldn’t exist, only that it needs to take his needs and reactions into account. He must EXPECT the pain, and be familiar with it. He can’t be an automaton running on clockwork, he’s the star of the show, and needs to be real.

Bottom line: Like most hopeful writers, you missed a critical point, which is that the word “writing,” found in the title of the profession, Fiction-Writer, does NOT refer to the skill of that name that we’re given in school.

That skill is both fact-based and author-centric—the definition of nonfiction writing. When using that skill-set a dispassionate external observer describes and reports. It’s a useful skill for creating reports and essays in school, as we did for so many of our school-day assignments. Useful too, on the job, which is why we were trained in its usage, But, it’s unsuitable for poetry and fiction because the result is devoid of the ability to involve the reader, emotionally in the events being reported. Have your computer read this to you, to hear how little emotion the readers get. Remember, they cannot know what emotion you'd place into the reading,

For fiction we need the emotion-based and character-centric skills the pros take for granted—skills we no more learn by reading fiction than we learn to be a chef by eating.

So it’s not a matter of talent, or how well you write. In fact, your wordsmith skills are better than most. It’s that you’re doing the best you can with a set of writing skills that are unsuitable for the medium and the task. And that’s what you need to address.

The library’s fiction-writing section can be a huge resource, so time spent there is time well invested.

I know this is pretty far from what you were hoping to hear, but I thought you’d want to know.

For what it might be worth, the articles in my WordPress writing blog are meant to give the flavor of the differences between fiction and nonfiction writing.

I wish there were some more gentle way of breaking such news, but I’ve not found one. But as I said earlier, it’s not about how well you write, or your talent, so it’s fixable. And given that we know you want to write, the learning will be, in many ways, like going backstage at a professional theater for the first time. And the practice is writing stories. So what’s not to love?

Hang in there, and keep on writing.

Jay Greenstein
https://jaygreenstein.wordpress.com/category/the-craft-of-writing/the-grumpy-old-writing-coach/


Posted 9 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.




Reviews

I looked at this and your other writing, and there’s a common thread: You’re writing this as if making a report. One declarative sentence follows another, talking about the events as dispassionately as reading a shopping list.

Think of yourself reading a horror story. At some point the protagonist will feel terror. Do you want to learn of that via a sentence that says: “Samuel felt terror claw at his mind as he descended into the dark basement?” Or do you want the author to terrorize you, and make YOU afraid to turn off the lights?

We don’t read fiction to learn the details of a fictional person’s life. We want to live it, vicariously, in real time. We want to be made to feel and care, not simply know. As E. L. Doctorow put it: “Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader. Not the fact that it’s raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.” And no way in hell can the writing skills we were given in school do that. In this case, you're trying to accomplish this via a cascade of overly vivid language that's getting close to purple-prose.

When we write a story, your reader expects it be in the viewpoint of the protagonist, and be more than a list of, “This happened…then that happened…and after that…”

Had you, for example, placed yourself into HIS viewpoint as you wrote, knowing the situation as him, you would never had said, “The harp made of glass had strings made of sharp wire.” Why?

1. To him it’s not “The harp made of glass.” As he uses it, it’s “the harp.” This is the fifth time you’ve told the reader what it’s made of. So this is you talking to the reader, not him playing. And to him this wouldn’t be the first time he experienced the feelings.
2. Were you him you’d know that even if it was possible to make a string “sharp,” he could never practice with it because he’d have to wait a week or so between using it and using any harp till the wounds healed. But you needed him to play as he did, not as a real person, but as a concept, so you make the writing poetic and pretty, and pile it on, at the expense of his humanity, and intelligence.

That doesn’t mean the story shouldn’t exist, only that it needs to take his needs and reactions into account. He must EXPECT the pain, and be familiar with it. He can’t be an automaton running on clockwork, he’s the star of the show, and needs to be real.

Bottom line: Like most hopeful writers, you missed a critical point, which is that the word “writing,” found in the title of the profession, Fiction-Writer, does NOT refer to the skill of that name that we’re given in school.

That skill is both fact-based and author-centric—the definition of nonfiction writing. When using that skill-set a dispassionate external observer describes and reports. It’s a useful skill for creating reports and essays in school, as we did for so many of our school-day assignments. Useful too, on the job, which is why we were trained in its usage, But, it’s unsuitable for poetry and fiction because the result is devoid of the ability to involve the reader, emotionally in the events being reported. Have your computer read this to you, to hear how little emotion the readers get. Remember, they cannot know what emotion you'd place into the reading,

For fiction we need the emotion-based and character-centric skills the pros take for granted—skills we no more learn by reading fiction than we learn to be a chef by eating.

So it’s not a matter of talent, or how well you write. In fact, your wordsmith skills are better than most. It’s that you’re doing the best you can with a set of writing skills that are unsuitable for the medium and the task. And that’s what you need to address.

The library’s fiction-writing section can be a huge resource, so time spent there is time well invested.

I know this is pretty far from what you were hoping to hear, but I thought you’d want to know.

For what it might be worth, the articles in my WordPress writing blog are meant to give the flavor of the differences between fiction and nonfiction writing.

I wish there were some more gentle way of breaking such news, but I’ve not found one. But as I said earlier, it’s not about how well you write, or your talent, so it’s fixable. And given that we know you want to write, the learning will be, in many ways, like going backstage at a professional theater for the first time. And the practice is writing stories. So what’s not to love?

Hang in there, and keep on writing.

Jay Greenstein
https://jaygreenstein.wordpress.com/category/the-craft-of-writing/the-grumpy-old-writing-coach/


Posted 9 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

It seems this could be a musician's nightmare of giving so much of his/her self for the sake of the art. It's certainly a creative piece of writing. One small nit--cord, when applied to music, is spelled "chord".

Posted 9 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

gwyndolin

9 Months Ago

Oh gosh I can't believe I didn't catch that before posting. Thanks for your feedback! It's been fixe.. read more

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Added on August 31, 2020
Last Updated on August 31, 2020
Tags: horror, supernatural, short story, fiction

Author

gwyndolin
gwyndolin

Newmarket, Ontario, Canada



About
Gwyndolin (Gwyn is ok!) | 24 | They/them I'm an aspiring horror/supernatural author with 8+ years of independent writing experience! I'm a member of the LGBTQ(IA)+ community and I believe in the no.. more..

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A Story by gwyndolin