Finally, the time has come! Of the many applause worthy entries received, the winner of the very first Another Series writing contest is:
BARD HIGH SCHOOL EARLY COLLEGE
New York, NY
Below, you can read Sabrina’s full story, which we loved because of its beautifully written style, its carefully chosen characters and plot, and the very devilish antagonist. The Faustian Bargain in this story is very creepy and ironic, and best of all, there is a wonderful psychological element to it (an element that is in fact the central conflict of the story), which is a sign of a talented budding literary writer! There was so much to love about this story, but we’ll let you judge for yourselves! And please take a moment to congratulate Sabrina, who was surely inspired by the ghost of her school’s namesake, The Bard. As promised, we will post a Q&A with Sabrina in the next few days! And in a week or two, we will be back with Another Series news and the official book jacket for Another Pan (which Sabrina will be reading early!!) and the paperback version of Another Faust!
Untitled by Sabrina Hua
With a sweep of the baton, the concert began with the violinists’ calloused hands gently coaxing rich notes from their instruments. The baton twirled, and the strings slowly died down like embers as the horns’ soft murmurs became more vibrant. The conductor’s grip tightened on the baton and with another wave, the violins revived with loud trills. Delicate clinks soon joined the pool of sounds, mirroring the melody made by the sweeping bow; the pianist played the black and white keys like a lover.
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, Leben, was without a doubt, one of the century’s finest masterpieces. Music, thick with emotion and obviously composed with genius, filled the orchestra hall. Even the hardest of hearts were moved, albeit reluctantly, by the swelling sounds. This, the members of the audience had thought at least once during the lengthy piece, is the sound of life.
The music mellowed to an end, and the audience sat tensely, unsure of what to expect. With the sound of silence ringing in their ears, they watched as the conductor stiffly turned and bowed. At the sign that the performance had indeed ended, two of the audience members immediately leapt to their feet, clapping with gusto. The other two remained seated. Their eyes watched the composer with mixed feelings, but their hands nonetheless moved with accolade. The last of the five, a doctor, however, remained silent.
Beethoven, a man in his early forties, smiled. His smile was bright; to his audience, it seemed insincere. The man reached out, clutching at the air before him and a young man, half the composer’s age, dashed across the stage. In his hands, he clutched a white cane, which he presented to Beethoven with reverence. The blind man groped for the cane, and his apprentice slipped it into his waiting hands. Beethoven nodded with gratitude, and fingers, rough from years of practice, curled tightly around the handle.
“Maestro, do you need help walking to your guests of honor?”
The musician clutched onto his disciple’s shoulder, but instead of using the younger man as a guide, he used his strong, youthful frame to support himself as he struck the stage’s polished floor with his cane. The audience stared at him with uncertainty. With a character like Beethoven, no one could be sure of what to expect.
The music prodigy gave his audience a toothy smile before singing, “Ah-ta-ta-tuh-ta-ta-Ah-tut-tut-tah!”
Three of the critics, Joseph Smith, William Lee, and Paul Jackson, exchanged looks of confusion. Their lips formed silent words as they shrugged in reply to each other’s questions. The fourth critic, Don Jacobs, seated next to the apathetic doctor, glared at the man onstage. A heavy scowl and a crinkled brow marred his face. Beethoven made beautiful music, Don would give the genius that much, but the critic couldn’t help but to feel resentment bubbling furiously in his chest with every “ta” the blind man uttered.
A cough and a wheeze interrupted his thoughts, and the critic tore his gaze from the man onstage.
The doctor peered at him. “Is something the matter?”
The doctor seated next to him wore a wrinkled medical jacket and was hunched over with age. He made Don uneasy, and his discomfort was perfectly visible on his still scowling face.
Suspicious murky brown stains dotted the man’s white clothing and his pockets seemed to be bulging with dangerous objects. Don could have sworn that he saw a scalpel. The elderly man was balding, and the few clusters of salt and peppered hair that he had were tousled and greasy. Why, Don wondered, would the famous Beethoven invite a shabby looking doctor to such an exclusive gathering?
The doctor seemed unperturbed by the critic’s gawking and answered dryly, “Ah, you, Mr. Weekly Classical, must be wondering why I, a humble doctor, is here, sitting amongst you music connoisseurs.”
Don tensed and forced himself to maintain eye contact with the doctor. While the man wasn’t hideous, he certainly wasn’t pleasant to look at. His skin was sallow, and his face was gaunt. For a doctor, he certainly looked unhealthy, not to mention unhygienic. The man’s eyes seemed to be bulging out of their sockets with curiosity, but it was the intensity in those dark eyes that scared Don the most. His calculative stare, to Don, seemed heavy with disdain. The smile on the doctor’s face was equally unnerving. Yellow teeth shined between the parted lips, curved upward in a wide grin.
Don extended a hand in greeting. Even though the thought of having to feel the doctor’s bony fingers and sagging skin made him queasy, the critic remembered his manners. The doctor’s wrinkled, discolored face looked away, and Don’s hand was left hanging. The old man, Don thought sourly, was as rude as he was odd.
“Yes, I was,” Don admitted; he paused, eyed the doctor once more and added, “But really, who are you? You know of my magazine so I assume you already know who I am.”
If possible, the corners of the doctor’s lips widened, and a chill ran down the critic’s spine. Don barely knew him, but he had a feeling that the man was no good.
“My name is Victor, but I insist that you call me Doctor,” he crooned, his voice thick with phlegm.
Don forced a smile, and replied good-naturedly. “Victor, what brings you here?”
Doctor’s smile twitched. Humanity was irritating, and people were obnoxious, especially snotty professionals. He tugged the collar of his jacket testily and sighed bitterly. There was a good reason why he was a misanthrope.
Regardless of his dislike, Doctor replied, “Beethoven and I have a history together.”
Don looked at Doctor with widened eyes; his interest was piqued. “Really? For how long did you know him?”
Doctor grinned. Humans were easy to understand. For complex creatures, their minds and thought patterns were surprisingly simple. Their intent always shined clearly in their eyes, and their thoughts were often reflected on their faces. When people behaved like fools, Doctor couldn’t help but to feel the want to play around with them. If he lied to them, they would believe his every word. Yet, if he told them the truth, they would be skeptical. Age, experience, and wisdom did nothing to improve their insights. Middle aged music critics, Doctor noted, were just as foolish as children.
“I met him a little over a decade ago.” Doctor glanced at Beethoven, who was still tapping his cane. “I suppose you can say he owes much to me.”
Don nodded; his face bore a forced smile. “Over ten years? Did you know that he was an aspiring musician then? Have you heard any of his past works?”
Doctor loved the way Don spoke; it was humorous. Did the critic really think that his animosity could be hidden with casual talk? It was clear that Don longed to hear Doctor reply, “Yes, I did. He was awful.”
Instead, Doctor answered with another question. With a shrewd smile, he asked, “What are you trying to say, Mr. Jacobs?”
Don took the bait and eagerly leaned over the seat’s armrest and whispered in the doctor’s ear.
“He was a failure.”
Doctor leaned back with mock surprise. He gave Don an owlish blink before gesturing at himself. “I’m not much of a music man, Mr. Jacobs. You see, I’m more of a visionary. I don’t quite understand you; you’ll have to explain this to me in further detail.”
Don directed his attention to Beethoven; the blind man seemed to be using his cane for everything with the exception of walking. The sight provoked his anger even further, and the critic spat through clenched teeth, “When I first met him, his hearing was impaired. I’m not trying to insult him; it was true. He had gone to many hospitals and otologists, but nobody could solve his problem. Perhaps he could have gone under the knife, but even so, it probably wouldn’t be enough. He wasn’t deaf, but he was close. Because of that, he couldn’t compose music. He couldn’t even play a piece properly! Imagine my surprise when I read the newspaper a few months later and saw his face in a picture next to an article about a blind composer that had recently debuted. It was as if his hearing became acute when he became blind.”
Don firmly pulled on Doctor’s sleeve; he needed somebody to believe him. “People thought that he was a newcomer to the musical world, a real prodigy. Let me tell you; he is everything but. I tried to look up his past, but I couldn’t find any documentation, any proof that he existed before he took on the name of Beethoven.”
Beethoven had dropped his cane. As his apprentice scampered about to retrieve the fallen cane, Beethoven slowly turned to face the critic that had been slandering him. Don froze in his seat; it was as if Beethoven could see him.
“Mr. Jacobs! Must you torment, Doctor? Must you disrespect me? Doctor is a busy man that had kindly taken the time to see me perform.”
The critic fumed and struggled to keep his temper under control. His efforts, all which the musician could not see, resulted in his flushed cheeks and his trembling figure. Don’s eyes narrowed into a glare and he pointed a finger at the man onstage. Paul, who sat on Don’s other side, tried to soothe him with a hand on his shoulder, but Don’s words of anger sprang free.
“It’s hard to disrespect the epitome of disrespectful!”
Beethoven’s form shook unsteadily. Beethoven was more than appalled; his body ached as if the insult had physically struck him.
Don stood up and chuckled. To Beethoven’s ears, the bitter laugh resonated without an end.
“You are a liar, a thief! There’s no way that you could have made so many wondrous pieces, one after the other, on your own. Whose work have you been stealing and playing as your own?”
Beethoven pressed his long fingers against his chest; the beating of his heart had suddenly become painful.
His voice was shaky, but Beethoven finally mustered the strength to reply. “M-mr. J-j-jacobs. D-don’t you t-think you’re being irrationally rash? I have g-generously invited you and your c-colleagues to hear me p-play. I-is h-how you thank me?”
Don haughtily crossed his arms. “You can’t fool me. I know perfectly well that you invited us here to prove us wrong. You just want to rub into our faces that we misjudged you.”
“W-what? To spite you? That was never my intention!”
His apprentice nodded fervently. “Maestro would never!”
“Don’t think I’ve forgotten! Ten years ago, you couldn’t even distinguish a flat note from a sharp! Ten years ago, you begged for the four of us to listen to you. We gave you a chance and reviewed your music honestly. That’s why we wrote poorly of you, Nicolas Gray!”
Beethoven stiffened; it had been years since somebody had called him that.
Joseph responded quickly, he rose from his seat, holding his hands up as if to comfort the blind man. “Beethoven, don’t be bothered by Don. Listen, you have proved me wrong. Unlike Don, I appreciate your music.”
William’s head bobbed up and down like a floating cork. “I agree with Joseph. Pay no heed to Don!”
Paul grimaced. He remembered Nicolas Gray, but he couldn’t afford to make enemies. Joseph and William gave him expectant looks. A sigh passed his lips and he muttered, “Likewise.”
Don was disgusted. Had they no pride? Doctor stood from his seat to let him pass. Don thanked him and turned to face the three critics. “Fine, be arrogant. Turn a blind eye to the past!”
The critics avoided his gaze, but amused, Doctor watched with interest.
“Nicolas Gray,” Don called over his shoulder as he was on his way out, “do you know what I hate the most about you?”
Beethoven was silent and seemed to be in deep thought.
“What I hate the most about you the most is your gall.”
Don leaned against the heavy door, and it creaked open.
“Like the rest of these shameless dolts, I, too, would compliment your music. But taking Beethoven’s name, the name of a true genius, a real musician, is unforgivable.”
The door shut with a slam, and to the remaining audience’s surprise, Beethoven seemed unperturbed. They had expected him to defend his name, but he didn’t. Blinded in many ways, Beethoven hadn’t even acknowledged that Don had left. His senses felt numbed; somebody was calling his name, but the voice sounded faint. His mind, flooded with memories of the past, snippets of the unforgettable, felt disoriented.
“My name is Victor; call me Doctor.”
“Doctor, I heard that you work miracles.”
“Ha! Are you looking for one? Have you tried praying to God?”
“Yes. I need it! That’s why you have to help me!”
“Are you sure you need it? Is it need or want?”
“I think you want it. You want it so badly that your insides quiver in the thought of never being able to have it. Those silly emotions of yours make you think you need it. You don’t need it.”
“You don’t understand. I need it.”
“If you insist.”
“I insist. Help me, Doctor. Please, I need this more than anything.”
“Tell me then, what will you give me?”
“What will you give me for the gift of hearing? What will you give to hear those sounds, those lovely sounds that you cannot? What will you give to hear the music that will make you beyond brilliant?”
“Specify, my dear.”
“Oh? That does strike my fancy. You are quite the interesting one.”
“Will you? Can you?”
“Yes, I will bless you. Using the hands of man, I will give you a gift from God.”
A wad of papers, their edges yellowed and frail with age, were in his calloused hands. Nicolas was sick of practicing until his fingers bled. He was tired of knowing that his skills would never improve until he could hear the beautiful sounds that everybody else could hear. Doctor rummaged through his bulky pocket for a pen. His wrinkled hand found one and he passed it to the amateur musician with a seedy smile. Nicolas flinched as Doctor’s knobby hands brushed against his.
“Do sign. We wouldn’t want any last minute regrets, would we?”
Red ink formed letters, a name, and bled through the sheets.
“Nicolas Gray, eh?”
“Yes, that’s my name. Is this it?”
“All I need is a name; it has to be legal.”
“It seems a bit too good to be real though.”
“If it’s fair, it’s real. It is as the saying goes, ‘An eye for an eye.’ Yet, in your case, I suppose it would be, “Eyes for ears.”
“Yeah, eyes for ears. You’ll make it so my ears are perfect in exchange for my vision?”
“Do you doubt me, Beethoven? Or do you doubt yourself?
“I have no doubts, none at all, but Doctor just to clarify, my name isn’t Beethoven.”
“How are you feeling, Beethoven?”
“Ah, that’s the anesthetic.”
“Try not to move, I don’t want to accidently cut anything.”
“Satana, Pape Satan, Pape Satan, aleppe!”
“D-doctor? What was that?”
“A blessing, Beethoven, a blessing.”
The doctor called it a blessing, but Nicolas knew better than that. Though there had been IV drips and bloody latex gloves, Nicolas knew that there had been more to it. Supposedly, his name was needed just for legal consent. There weren’t supposed to be any consequences; it was a fair trade. But he knew better than that; there were always consequences. And he ignored them when he signed the pact.
On that day, with his rightful name, he swore away his soul. And he gave it to a creature worse than a devil—a human.
Tears fell from his sightless eyes, and he fell to his knees. His breathing became shallow; his body felt cold and heavy. He struggled to press his hands against his ears. He had to stop the ringing; he had to silence the silence.
One of the critics, by now, the ruined man could not tell who was who, asked meekly, “Beethoven? Are you alright?”
Nicolas thrashed on the floor and pawed at his eyes. His words were garbled with sobs and terrified pants.
“D-don’t call me that!”
“Beethoven? Calm down!”
Nicolas frantically pulled at his hair, hoping that the pain would bring him back to his senses.
“Beethoven! Stop, you’re hurting yourself!”
Nicolas looked around, but all he could see was the same darkness that he had been seeing for the past ten years. The darkness seemed even more frightening than ever.
“DON’T CALL ME THAT!”
His apprentice gently patted his back, but Nicolas swatted at him.
“I’m not a genius! Leave me alone!”
The critics left their seats and clustered around the composer. Beethoven had been fine moments ago, but now, he was in hysterics. It was as if he were a completely different person. It was as if he were Nicolas. The critics exchanged glances and shook their heads. Nicolas was in the past; this was Beethoven.
“Beethoven! Breathe, calm down.”
Doctor picked at a dry bloodstain on his jacket before leaving his seat silently. Man was always like that. He acted before he though, regretted after he acted, and believed in shallow lies instead of concrete thoughts. All men were the same, and they never learned from their mistakes; humanity blinded itself.
“Damn you! Damn you!”
Nobody saw when Doctor left with a smile.