One of my final courses before wrapping up my degree is Music Appreciation, and it has been, by far, the best course I’ve taken in all of college. And it’s not even related to my degree.
Anyway, one of my assignments for this course was to choose one of the three pieces my teacher offered and make some creative project based on it. Any medium. Obviously, I chose writing.
Obviously, music this time is the piece I chose.
Apparently, the piece was based on a book called The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is about a love triangle. So I just kind of took that basic inspiration and did my own thing with it.
(I’ve never really written anything close to a “love story” and, since I really don’t have much experience with such things, I’m not sure how “real”, exactly, it is. But I think it serves its purpose.)
He walked into his room and glanced at his bed. He didn’t feel like sleeping, he didn’t feel like doing anything, but at least in sleep he would be away from this world. He could escape reality by slipping into his sleeping mind. A jab of memory stabbed him for an instant and faded so quickly he doubted it had even been there in the first place. At least hoped it hadn’t been there in the first place.
The thought of that was concerning to him, in a way. As preoccupied as he was right now with what had happened, perhaps his unconscious would be too fixated on that to truly serve as any kind of respite. Perhaps his dreams would be worse than waking. But he was tired, and it was worth a try, at least. Another piercing memory surfaced in his mind and disappeared as he walked toward his bed.
His body was heavy, weighed down by his mind. His arms felt sluggish, his steps regular but faltering and slow, his mind in a haze. He laid down under the covers and closed his eyes, simply trying to not think. He knew the racing thoughts would come soon, but perhaps he would be able to fall asleep before then.
He was exhausted enough, both bodily and mentally, that soon the bed fell out from beneath him with that familiar feeling of falling out from reality.
The definitions between his body, mind, and the world blurred. Pieces of him began separating and meshing into the void around them, he was no longer defined by some arbitrary name like “William”; his consciousness, for that one moment, lived purely in the moment in a completely abstracted universe.
Then he felt a tug on his mind and he was pulled out of this nonexistence into – in a shocking change for this fragile state – existence itself. He was running, the sky dark in front of him and his path unclear. He wished to look behind himself to see what it was that pursued him, or that which he was running from, anyway, but found his head immovable. His consciousness was simply locked into this ride that his body provided. It seemed as though he could spectate but little more in this moment.
He felt it nearing in on him, he felt his body straining itself to speed on faster and faster, then a sharp pain on his shin and gravity shifted, landing him on his face.
He had tripped on something in his path, difficult to see in the darkness. But now the urgency had faded, he no longer felt the need to run. He got up slowly, casually, and found himself standing on a wide field with a short covering of oxeye daisies. The field overlooked a high valley with another mountain on its other side.
That fearful state, aside from just fading, had been replaced with joy and relaxation. He was at peace, here. He sat down, cross-legged, and brushed his hand through the flowers.
Looking up, he saw a woman approaching him from afar. She seemed to glide through – or perhaps above – the flowers, her dress concealing any movement behind. She made her way to him quickly, more quickly than he would’ve expected.
Her appearance, one that he didn’t explicitly recognize but still felt familiar with, filled that previous feeling of relaxation to overpouring. All traces of his previous panic had vanished, even memories that it had happened were gone. Her presence took control of him.
It took control of him enough that for one moment, merely the vague thought of her eventual departure turned the mood sour. But, looking at her again, the thought was gone and happiness filled him once more. He stood up next to her and they locked hands and began walking through the field, without a word, as though that had been their plan all along.
As they walked, he began to feel that the two of them had always been there, always walking together on this beautiful plateau. They skipped through the flowers, still hand in hand, then stopped, turned and faced each other, and clasped their previously empty hands and began a slow, graceful dance. They danced for what felt like hours but could have merely been moments, he closing his eyes and soaking in the feeling.
However later it was, he opened his eyes and found his hands empty, dancing partnerless on the field. The sun had dimmed, whether from setting or going behind a cloud, and the field felt suddenly much emptier. He stopped and stood in the middle, looking around helplessly.
A memory slid into his mind. It was only partially formed, intangible, but its emotion filled him. He slumped down onto his knees on the daisies below. Was that… Had that been… Carole? Who “Carole” was, exactly, still wasn’t quite certain to him, but he felt the significance of the realization and was pulled back, for a moment, to his mood before sleep.
A doubt and mystery filled his mind. Who was she, really? Why did he feel such an automatic connection with her here and instant despair at her departure?
Then all lucidity of his dream slipped away as the ground fell out from underneath him and he landed on the top of a train barreling down its tracks, set in a small artificial valley cut out of a forest. He recovered and stood on the roof of the car, arms outstretched to steady himself. He looked forward and the area in the edges of his sight blurred, smeared onto his vision by speed.
He lost his footing for a moment and crouched on hands and knees. He looked up in the other direction and thought that he saw just a small flash of motion near a door leading into the car behind his.
He stood up again and the mystery faded for a moment in the exhilaration of the train’s speed. He stood there, his feet set carefully and his arms outstretched – now emulating wings rather than for balance – and enjoyed the wind whipping through his hair. He savored that moment before turning and, crouching to keep his center of gravity slow, made his way to the end of the car, climbed down, and entered the following car.
It was Alexander. All of that earlier exhilaration drained out of him as soon as he saw Alexander there, now replaced with depression and dread. Who Alexander was, precisely, was again unclear to him, but he still understood the significance of his existence. He wished to say something to Alexander, to ask him who he was, why he was the source of his misery, why he was here.
But he couldn’t. Again, his body refused to respond to his demands. He was wholly an observer, once again, all but his eyes sheltered away from the influence of his mind.
Alexander did nothing. He wasn’t standing stock-still, still moving around slightly, leaning from side to side, looking around, but didn’t seem to see William standing there.
William turned around as the door behind him opened. The woman – Carole – from earlier walked through, paying no heed to him as did Alexander. His consciousness screamed at his motionless body to move, to go up to her, to take her hand once more, but it made no difference.
She walked past him and up to Alexander. He responded to her presence, back straightening and stepping forward to take her hand when she approached. They embraced and Alexander kissed her cheek. She looked happy to see him, certainly, but there was a slight hesitation.
When he looked at her, she pulled a smile back onto her face, and they began walking to the door at the other end of the train car. Alexander opened the door for her, but just before she stepped through, Carole looked back over her shoulder for an instant and locked eyes with William.
One last struggle to get his body to move, his vocal chords to work and shout out to the two of them, but it was futile. The two of them disappeared through the door and vanished from his sight. Only then was he granted movement once more and the energy that had been pent up inside of him was let out in a quiet groan. He rushed forward to the door, threw it open, and walked through.
He was standing in the sanctuary of a church. Pews were lined with people in formal clothing, and there was, standing at the front, Alexander in a tuxedo. Down the aisle, Carole was walking forward in full wedding gown.
The scene may have continued, for all he knew, but he closed his eyes and collapsed on the ground, blocking it out. He felt his body drift but kept his eyes closed, trying to forget the previous scene but, in the very act of focusing on forgetting it, continuing to replay it over and over.
He waited, his chest heaving. He focused on breathing and it steadied, and he slowly opened his eyes.
He was taken back to that moment of relaxation and happiness, of walking through the field with Carole, now from a spectator’s view. But it was short-lived. In that period where he had danced with her with his eyes closed, focusing on the feeling of being with her, he saw now that Alexander had approached and stolen her away from him.
And again he was thrown into that darkened setting afterward, sitting on the daisies, filled with pain. The lucidity stayed, this time, though, and he remembered who she was. Who both of them were.
Images flashed before his mind, once more pulled out of his body and floating in the dark, formless void. Images of he and Carole first meeting long ago. Images of the two of them at that ball when things had been so perfect; images of them smiling, embracing, dancing, laughing with their group of friends. Images of them kissing and whispering to each other. Then images – darkening now, and starker in his memory – of a young Alexander coming up to her during that dance and asking to take her from him. And images of her going with Alexander.
There were nice images after that, but it was never quite the same again. He and Carole enjoyed time together still, but it was always overshadowed by the presence of Alexander. He was always there – if not bodily, at least in thought – like a dark cloud over the two of them.
But then the happy, or at least partially happy, images were gone for good. Alexander proposed, the wedding was shortly thereafter, and of course he had gone. How could he not? He couldn’t show himself to be the complete failure that he felt.
The flickering of the images built up to a climax and then there was only dark. There was nothing to see in the void, and the only thing he could feel was pain and regret. Regret at not making some move before Alexander, even though he wasn’t entirely sure what that move could have been. Regret at not having made some choice that, in all likeliness, was never presented to him or even possible.
And pain at the result.
He floated there in nonexistence, pondering all he had seen. He felt distraught, at least, he felt that he should feel distraught, disturbed, hopeless. But for some reason, it was fading. He still certainly didn’t feel happy about it whatsoever, but there was a note of resolution in his mood.
As much as he longed for and appreciated the reprieve that resolution offered, it didn’t seem right to him. He automatically grasped for those awful feelings, trying to cling onto them further, trying to wallow further in his misery. It wasn’t natural to recover from those emotions, right? Not so quickly, at least?
But maybe, before now, he had been looking at things as they came. Only comparing the present moment to the previous. But here, he had been witness to it all, with all the pain that that came with. It seemed to have given him a larger perspective over it all, though. It still hadn’t been a positive experience for him, but he didn’t think he would avoid it if he had the choice to do it all over again.
It wasn’t positive, but it was whole. He wasn’t whole, at least he didn’t feel so, but it was complete. There was nothing he could do about it any more, and that thought – while perhaps a grim one – comforted him and set a final, resolving tone.
While still reflecting on this, his consciousness began to fray again. The void, paradoxically, began to dim and disappear. His head swam, his spirit floated through the ether, all thoughts ended and were replaced with only a dim knowledge of existence.
A bird was chirping outside his window, and a slant of sun shone from under his partially-pulled shade, illuminating the space behind his closed eyelids. A dull, throbbing headache from the previous night’s drinking began. Slowly it dawned on him that he was awake once more, but he didn’t open his eyes. He laid there for a minute, surprised by the peace in himself. Only fragments of his dream remained, but the overall effect had held.