Friday, October 21, 2011

Piano Scorpian

Wow. It's been more than a year since I've posted. Anyways, let's jump into it.

Many may not know, but I aspire to be a writer. I've been told that I have a bit of talent at it, too. The following is story I wrote. Like most of what I have written, it is a work in progress, so, like most of my work, I appreciate any comments. I know it'll still have minor grammatical errors, we'll find those as we go along. But, besides that, please let me know what you think. And be honest. Also, I don't say this to my friends and family, but the people who wandered in from elsewhere; if it applies to you, listen, if not, whatever, but please don't steal it. I wrote it first. Please don't reproduce without asking me first.


CALCUTTA- In all his years of reporting the mysteries of various places, India has probably been this reporter’s favorite trip. As I have mentioned in earlier installments, the jungles here are just teaming with life, and statistics say that much of it is yet undocumented. I could make a study of just Indian insects a lifelong work and be completely fulfilled. But I am more than an entomologist. I am also a sociologist. India has just as much to offer one of that profession as she does one of my other, with almost as much history. But these two passions of mine came together the other day when I was visiting an aged hermit.

I was told that he had much to offer in the way of wisdom and ancient stories, and that he was also an expert on arthropods. I gathered my satchel and climbed his little mountain. He was actually quite a pleasant little chap, although we had to speak through an interpreter. He asked a very curious question soon after we were introduced. He asked if he could look through my bag. Not having anything to hide, I handed my haversack over. He pulled out my papers and looked through them very carefully, though very gently, keeping them in the same order he found them. I don’t think he was reading them, just studying the symbols of my writing. He came across a piece of piano music that for the life of me I can’t figure out how it got there, and he studied this very carefully indeed. He asked me why the writer of that paper glorifies a scorpion so much. When I asked him to clarify, he pointed to one of the symbols on the page, a treble clef. He said that this was the design on the head of a very curious scorpion, that even he, having studied arthropods his whole life, had never seen in person. He said it was rumored to be a very big scorpion, and he spread his fingers to indicate that it was about a hand’s span long. He also said that it was a very deadly scorpion. But, according to my elderly friend, the most curious thing about this creature is that it has two venoms. One is its normal venom, very deadly and virile. The other, he said, is a medicine, the like of which man has never seen. He said that his old teacher told him that none knows how the scorpion mixes this venom, so it cannot be duplicated, but it can cure anything. The truly tragic thing is, one adult scorpion can make this venom once in its lifetime, and only then when it is perfectly contented. And once this very small amount is used, the scorpion dies. But this small amount, he told me over and over, is enough. Sad, he said, that there are so few in the world, that there ever was so few. The only thought I had was “Talk about a Lorenzo’s Oil!” If this “Piano Scorpion’s” existence is truth, and not the rambling folk tale of an old man, the implications could be wondrous. He told me how the story had been passed down that this scorpion could only find life if a musician died, especially if she was a beautiful soul that died too early, and had left people and things behind that she felt needed done. He believed that the scorpions were the reincarnated souls of these musicians. He said they could only have this contented feeling needed to make their healing venom if they were able to find and complete their unfinished business. These bits of information lend more credence to the theory that these animals do not, in fact, exist, but are simply a camp fire folk tale. Still, it would be nice to try and find one. This is the type of “holy grail” quest that a man such as I could waste a lifetime on. Too bad I do not have another life time to waste....

Charles was a sickly boy, about ten years old. The fact that he had lived past his first birthday was heralded as a miracle. Too bad that nobody had much faith that Charles would get another miracle. Nobody knew exactly what Charles had, but it seemed to affect both his mental and physical development. The closest that the doctors could come was that it was related in some way to autism, although this didn’t explain his frequent, severe seizures. He couldn’t talk, and could barely even walk, and the doctors told his father, a single parent, to not try and encourage him to. But then, the kinds of doctors that his father could afford weren’t that good, mostly just drunken washouts who either wasted their careers or never really had one. About the most Charles’ father could get him to show emotion was his huge, crooked smile, although he showed that more and more infrequently as his body painfully decayed. Mostly what Charles did with his time was play the piano, which had been left over from before his mother’s death. Not that he could play it well, like she always did. No, all Charles was ever able to do was plunk at one, maybe two, notes at a time, over and over, all day. Even in his sleep, which his father watched closely as that was when the worst seizures came, Charles’ fingers would pantomime plunking his one or two keys.

Charles’ father was a talented software programmer, though he didn’t have the guts to demand the promotion and the pay that he deserved, so he struggled along in barely more than an internship for twelve grueling years. One day, he was asked to fetch the CEO, visiting the small branch of the firm, some coffee. Grumbling to himself about not being appreciated, he fetched the coffee. He was distracted by his grumbling, and accidentally spilled the hot liquid on the boss. The man was irate, and fired Charles’ poor father on the spot. Worrying for Charles, the poor man lost all control. He let the boss have what for, verbally. He detailed how he had been with the company for twelve years, never appreciated, and knew everything there was to know about most of their products. He also detailed a few major bugs that he new about in their flagship program, bugs that the company’s competitors would very much like to know about. This CEO, a businessman more than a programmer, knew he had a bad situation if he just let Charles’ father go like that. So, he rehired the man and promoted him, to regional manager, where, he said, he could keep an eye on such possible thorns. The bad part was it was over the South Asia region, headquartered in Calcutta, India.

Charles’ father didn’t know what to do. He had to go, as he knew he wouldn’t have the guts to sell the information he had, it almost killed him to talk about it. Since his wife died ten years ago, he just didn’t have the same spunk anymore. And it would be difficult to get another job. The company was paying to move him and all his stuff, the hard part would be moving Charles. The boy and his mother’s piano were the last things that the poor man had to remind himself of his beloved wife. He asked the doctor, who gave a noncommittal answer that basically said he didn’t care enough to know if Charles could handle the trip. Having no other choice, Charles’ father went ahead with the move, and took Charles with him.

Charles did fine with the plane ride, and he was at home as ever in their new house. But their furniture, including the piano, hadn’t arrived yet. Charles fretted over this, though he didn’t have the words to say as much. He just sat in the corner that his father had told him would contain the piano when it arrived, and pantomimed playing his one note. During this time, his health seriously declined. His seizures became more frequent and severe, and his father despaired.

And then, one joyous day, just when Charles’ father was going to give up hope, the furniture arrived, including the piano. Charles’ father had it brought in first and put in the corner. He sat Charles down at it, and let the boy plunk away to his heart’s content. His seizures lessened back to their normal levels, although he never fully recovered his health. Life began anew for Charles and his father.

One day, several weeks later, Charles was alone in the house with their housekeeper, a perk that his father could now afford. He was at the piano, plunking away, when a large scorpion crawled on top of it and looked at him. He had never seen a scorpion, and never even knew they existed. He was never a curious sort, but something about this scorpion piqued him. He leaned in close to get a better look at the large arachnid, especially at the curious mark on its head. The scorpion, likely sensing danger, arched its stinger up and gave a loud hiss. Charles, not knowing this was a warning, smiled his crooked, toothy grin at the bug. The scorpion seemed to relax, although slightly. Charles decided to play it a song, the only song he knew.

As he sat the next few hours away, happily plunking out his one or two notes, the scorpion did a curious thing. It not only relaxed considerably, it seemed to enjoy being played to. It began to sway to its own rhythm, crab-walking back and forth across the top of Charles’ mother’s piano. Charles watched this and smiled again, twice in one day, which was about the most he ever had shown any emotion. The rhythm with which the small animal danced brought back memories to his clouded brain. He kept plunking his note, but as he did, he closed his eyes. He thought he saw the world as he did as a baby. He was in a cradle, near the piano, in his old house. There was a woman looking down at him, and she was beautiful. Her eyes filled him with warmth and joy that only a baby could know. “Oh, my sweet Charles,” she was saying in his memory. “I love you, so. Here, Baby. Let me play you a song.” And she disappeared, but he could hear her setting at the piano. Then the most beautiful melody came from the strings inside the piano’s body. This melody, if emotion could be put into sound, summed up his entire feelings for his mother, immature as they were. She also hummed, not the same melody, but a harmonious one, that matched the piano perfectly. This song, his mother’s song, filled him with joy and made all his fears and pains melt away. He had such a limited memory, it was amazing that he could remember this one even so clearly. So caught up was he that he didn’t realize what he was playing.

Charles’ father was in a meeting, but he took the emergency call from his house keeper. She was in a panic over what Charles was doing, and he couldn’t get her to talk to him clearly so he could find out what was really happening with his son. Fearing the worst, he took his leave and rushed the few blocks home. He burst into the house to find the house keeper weeping, so he ran down the entry hall to the room that had Charles’ piano. What he saw, and heard, stopped him dead. Charles was playing the piano. Not like he normally did, one or maybe two notes over and over, but he was actually playing it. And he was playing his mother’s song, which his father knew there was no recordings of nor was it written down. Ten years ago, just before she had died in a tragic auto accident, she had written it for their then newborn son. He told her it was very good, that she should record it or at least write it down, but she kept putting it off until it was too late. Charles had to be playing it from memory. The only thing missing was her voice, humming the counter melody to the tune. Then he saw the large scorpion. His first reaction was one of revulsion, to get the dangerous animal away from his son. But, it was...dancing. There was no other word to describe it. Not only was its swaying and spinning in time with the beloved melody that Charles was playing, but, almost, it seemed to be exactly in time with what he could remember of the harmony that his wife used to hum.

He assured the house keeper that all was well, and dismissed her for the rest of the day. Then he sat on floor and watched his son remember his wife, the boy’s mother, and the curious scorpion helping him. He sat there for hours, and it soon grew dark, but Charles continued to play, and the scorpion continued to dance. The father was lost in his own memories, as well. Charles’ father only noticed that Charles had stopped playing when he heard the boy’s body hit the floor. He was quickly to the boy’s side, holding him, trying to do as he normally did when his beloved son had a seizure. But the boy was still. Desperately, the father searched for a pulse, for a breath, for anything. But there was nothing. Overcome with grief, Charles’ father didn’t know what to do. He didn’t try to resuscitate the boy, he didn’t call for help. He just cried, pouring out his bereaved soul through his tears. He didn’t notice the scorpion crawl down from its perch atop the piano. He didn’t notice it scurry across the floor. He didn’t notice it regard him sadly, if an arthropod could feel sadness. And he didn’t notice it crawl up the dead boy’s arm, across his chest, to stop near the boy’s throat. The father did notice, however, when the scorpion began to shudder. It was going through some sort of change. He looked down at it. “What are you doing?” he asked, not really expecting an answer, but asking anyways. All at once the scorpion stopped shuddering, and raised its large stinger over its head. The father cried out in alarm, but was too slow. The scorpion, with the curious treble clef symbol on its head, plunged its stinger into the boy’s neck, directly into the artery. The father cried out in anguish, but it was too late to do anything. The scorpion had spread its venom, and had fallen away, curling its eight legs in death. The father, even more grieved, began to sob. He couldn’t bare to hold the boy’s limp body, so he went to the piano and beat it, hard, and continuously, until he was physically spent. He collapsed on the floor next to the instrument, able to do nothing but sob.

He felt a small hand on his shoulder, and, surprised and perplexed, he stopped sobbing. He looked up, and saw Charles standing there. Not knowing what to make of this, or what to do, he wrapped his mute son in a hug. “Father,” said the boy, his first words. “Why are you crying?” Amazed, Charles’ father sat back and looked at his son. “Don’t be sad,” said Charles, cryptically. “She found me. And now she’s all right. And so am I.” The boy gave his crooked, toothy grin. “Here,” he said. “Let me play you a song.” Then stepping away from his bewildered father, he sat at the piano and played. He played the only true song he had ever learned, and he hummed. He hummed the same tune that the his mother had, the tune that the scorpion, now a drying husk, had danced. He played and he hummed and he wondered. He wondered why his father continued to weep.