Scott Eagan is currently enrolled in the MFA program at Columbia College Chicago where he may, or may not, be working towards the completion of his first novel. He lives in the mysterious nether-region of northwesternish Illinois with his girlfriend, Shaelene, and their son, Ronan. Goreyesque is Scott's first prose publication.
It was not until Augustus sat down to play the piano that he finally realized he could no longer feel anything. And that did not surprise him.
As the byproduct of a father who buried a wife while on vicodin—a father who cared for nothing except his next dosage of pills, and, of course, the bottle, with a preference towards whiskey—Augustus could never have fully taken the time to mourn the loss of his wife, Cynthia. He was not raised for such things. After she was gone, his life, like his father’s, fell into a regiment of medications, and, of course, the bottle, though his preference was vodka. He traversed in a somnambulistic haze from one remedial chore to another. It was easiest that way. After she was gone, Augustus no longer had any real moments of joy, or sadness, and those times in which it appeared he did were facades designed to make him appear human. He couldn’t cry.
His memories were colorless.
Until he played the piano, and then the siren call of his father’s listlessness was silenced, and the dry-rotted memories became infused with a vivid wash of colors. And sometimes…
Sometimes he swore he could hear Cynthia’s voice lingering after each note. At times, he half expected her to sit down next to him.
Then one day she did. And she said: “It’s not your fault.”
But he insisted it was. “You’re gone because of it.”
“You mustn’t do this,” she whispered.
“I have to,” he replied. There were tears in his eyes. “It’s my requiem.”
And then she was gone. And he played on. The hours became days. The tips of his fingers became raw and bloody. He left his crimson prints on the ivory keys. There was a glint of anger in his stone-washed blue eyes, understanding, clearly, that if he stopped, all of it would end – the sensations, the emotions, the tears – all sucked into his cancerous black-hole of a heart. And so he played on, determined to kill himself, or rather, to kill this incarnation of himself. To shed his tormented skin and be reborn, like the phoenix, so that nothing would be left of the man who could not feel.
As he neared completion, he attacked the keys with reckless abandon, wincing and grimacing at the pain, which was almost unbearable. Outside, the wind began its violent aria, knocking open the double-paned windows, sending a blood-splatter of rain across the Italian marble floor. Full-length red satin curtains pulled taut, then undulated with rhythmic grace in the wind. A bolt of lightning, framed in the window, carved down through the darkness of night, leaving a trace image to linger, a polarized picture of leafless tree branches, and then the image was gone, back under the cover of darkness. And Augustus, reaching his climax, unleashed a scream. Panes of glass shattered, and he collapsed face first onto keys now stained blood-red. He slipped out of consciousness, but only for a moment.
When he returned to consciousness, the wind had died. The curtains hung still. Streams of water leaked from the womb of the grand piano. He lifted the cabinet lid. Inside he saw himself curled up in the fetal position, half obscured in the dark water. “It worked,” he said lifelessly. “I can’t believe it worked.”
His doppelgänger sat up suddenly, gasping for air. It startled Augustus. He released the cabinet lid, and knocked the bench aside as he stepped back. The lid slammed onto the copy’s head. He heard it swear from inside the stomach of the piano, and it attempted to push the top up, failed, and instead rolled, striking the steel strings in a discordant arrangement of notes, to the edge, where it squeezed out with some difficulty, and fell to the floor.
“I’m sorry,” Augustus said, but as an afterthought. He placed his raw fingers on the keys, and became overjoyed that his plan had worked.
The copy was naked on the ground, and could not get to its feet. “It’s all right,” it said. “I imagine if I were you, I’d have reacted in a similar manner. A hand, however, would be appreciated. I’m having some difficulty standing.”
“Of course,” replied Augustus. And as he moved his fingers off the piano keys, he quickly forgot he was feeling overjoyed at all, and shuffled over to the copy, where he extended his right hand. Then they noticed the left leg. Or rather, the absence of a left leg, replaced instead with a short gray flipper bridged crudely to a 4x4 with duct-tape. At the end of the 4x4, a set of toes had been drawn with an orange crayon.
“Oh dear,” the copy said.
Augustus attempted to manifest disbelief, failed, and said dryly, “Oh no. This isn’t right. This can’t be happening.” He hoisted the copy upright.
“Yes, well…it does feel odd,” it said. The copy could not stand up straight. His 4x4 leg was two inches longer than his right leg, forcing him into an awkward lean. “It’s a bit like scoliosis, I imagine.”
“I think you should climb back into the piano,” Augustus said with meek detachment.
“But I only just got here.”
“Please. We just don’t have time for this,” Augustus said lethargically. “You nee—” He stopped and shuffled over to the piano. He began to lightly play the red keys. “You need to get back in the piano, now!” he demanded.
“Because this is wrong; you’re supposed to be perfect.” His voice overlapped a soundtrack of three flat notes.
“Well, you don’t always get what you want. You think I wanted a flipper duct-taped to a 4x4 for a leg, hmmm? It wouldn’t have been my first choice. But I tend to look on the bright side in instances such as these, so…at least it has toes! Am I right?”
“I don’t care about your stupid toes. Get inside! We’re doing this again.”
“You’re a bit brusque, aren’t you? Would you like a hug? It might calm your nerves.”
“No! I don’t want a hug.”
“Well, why not? I’m you, right? I mean, it’s not like we’re gay or anything. Wait a minute; are we gay?”
“No! No, we’re not gay! Please shut up and get in the goddamn piano!”
But the copy seemed unconvinced. “It’s OK; I support our alternative lifestyle; I’m not afraid of it. I’m a modernist.”
Augustus moved his hands away from the keys to rub the frustration from his face, but lost the need to rub the frustration from his face when he could no longer feel frustrated. “Time is running out,” he said listlessly. “This place, this special place, it’s falling apart.” And it was.
The rotunda room, with gorgeous coffered ceiling panels and early Byzantine décor, began to crack. A piece of ornately decorated plaster dropped from overhead and shattered on the marble floor. “I don’t understand. You were supposed to be perfect,” Augustus said. He wandered into the center of the room.
“Yes, well, I have a very interesting theory on that,” the copy said. “The fact is: your piano is clearly out of tune – you seriously couldn’t hear that while you were playing? Now, I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but humans are extremely sensitive to sound waves. Therefore my theory, unprofessional as it may be, is that upon our metaphorical or maybe literal rebirth, the sound of your un-tuned piano deformed me. Or us. Well, that part is a bit confusing.”
Augustus had stopped listening. He staggered over to the double Tuscan columns which framed a massive bull’s-eye mural of Helios in his chariot. A piece of the column had peeled off and fallen to the floor, revealing a toothless and jaundiced old man underneath, who claimed to be one of Augustus’s many possible future incarnations; his smiling face was squished up against the opening as if it was somehow glass. “Teef…haven’t gotem,” the possible alternate iteration of Augustus said.
“You’ve ruined everything,” Augustus said to the copy. He tried to place the peeled section of the column back over the old man’s face, but it would not hold, not even for a second.
Old Man Augustus said: “’Ave you gotem…me teef ‘at is?”
“I fail to see how this is my fault,” the copy countered crossly from across the room. It folded its arms and turned its head in protest. A large crack grew along the wall and floor, dividing them and the room into two sections. “That is to say, had you properly learned to tune a piano, none of this would have come to pass, ergo it is your fault, and I am nothing more than a victim of your horrible inability to properly tune a musical instrument. And I apologize if that seemed rude, but on the other hand, the truth often does seem rude, doesn’t it?” It paused; its face softened as a realization dawned. “Then again, had it not been for your folly, I would not be standing here, in a manner of speaking, although leaning is a more accurate depiction. Regardless, I can breathe, so I suppose…” The copy uncrossed its arms and placed a contemplative finger on its lips. “I suppose I owe you a thank you. So thank you!” The divide in the room widened.
Augustus had slid down the wall, his leg pinned uncomfortably as he sat on it, but he made no effort to rearrange himself. “You can thank me by getting back into the piano.” And Augustus’s toes, infected with same destruction pathogen as the room, began to discolor and gray.
The copy watched as the cracked divide of the room grew farther apart. “What exactly would be the point of me getting back into the piano?”
“Only one of us can walk through that door.” Augustus pointed weakly at an intricate wooden arched door. It shimmered softly with golden illumination. “But we have to be perfect. Please, there’s still time. I could tune the piano. Or you could tune it for me?”
The copy contemplated his options. It moved unevenly across its hemisphere of the room to the open window. The glass, from all the shattered panes, crunched under its wooden leg. It poked its head out into the night sky and took in a deep breath. The air was charged with moisture and everything outside smelt fresh and clean. “No, I don’t want to try this again, and I don’t want to walk through that door,” it replied. “It is not my place to exist in that world; it is yours.”
“Then we’ll both die,” Augustus replied absently. “I can’t go back. I can never go back.”
“Then we will pass-on together, creator and created. I like that. It’s poetic.” The copy closed its eyes as a faint breeze tickled its face. It was smiling.
“This was supposed to be my requiem,” Augustus said with indifference.
“And now it’s ours,” the copy replied.
Augustus rubbed his face for no particular reason. His legs began to unravel like a thin gray cord pulling away from a spool. The divide in the room shifted apart further. The grand piano’s back leg broke and crashed to the ground.
The copy was still smiling as it was consumed by waves of gray, appearing, momentarily as a statue, but then the breeze swept in, and the copy was unmade into thousands of tiny ash-colored pieces, and the room filled with its dancing confetti remains, like a gigantic snow globe.
Then the doorway went dark. And the light gradually drained from the room and out the window, like fluid sloshing down a drain. Augustus thought fleetingly of the grand piano. He wanted to feel something before it happened, but that moment passed. Instead he stared out into blackness vacantly, and thought of the copy, who had enjoyed what little bit of life it had left.
Augustus did that until finally he came undone into a single chaotic length of spiraling gray cord.