The Box (a dystopian story for musicians)

Here it is, in all its unedited glory — the most derivative thing I’ve ever written! Maybe I’ll just call it an “homage”… yeah, that should fix it. I just love dystopian stories like Farenheit 451.

I wrote it for the same class as the music sonnet.

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Mathematics was John’s favorite of the fine arts, though not for any of the reasons others liked it. Some of John’s colleagues liked math for its practicality — being an expert in math gave one many advantages in life. Businesses and politicans were always in need of people who knew statistics, for example. Others used their math skills to move into other areas such as banking and computers.

But John wasn’t like those people. He wasn’t particularly analytical, making statistics duller than the pair of safety scissors he used to use back in school, in visual art class. John never cared much for the ironically abbreviated “art” class, it never seemed very interesting. Cut and paste, cut and paste. That’s all they would do. The teacher would pass out the art books and safety scissors, and the students would make visual art. What do you want to make today? A horse? Cut the horse from the book and paste. A farm? Cut the farm from the book and paste.

Language arts was equally devoid of life to John. He found the logic techniques interesting enough, but again, John was not analytical enough to get into the grind of the business of writing. Others liked the consistency of these arts, getting into the mode of productivity and moving.

The difference was that while most people seemed to “like” it, John actually found pleasure in the art of mathematics. Not in the problem solving or statistical parts of it, but in the numbers themselves. John was fascinated by numbers — by the relationships between them, the way they added together and divided apart. The way he could count in fours or count in threes and find himself getting different feelings — he could almost picture the numbers. Almost. There was something missing, as if he was trying to see with his nose or hear with his eyes.

John remembered the first time he mentioned this to anyone. He was in his 10th grade math class. He remembered raising his hand…

“Mr. Faber?” he had asked.

“Yes John?”

And then he expressed his fascination, his joy, and his frustrations with the art of mathematics. He would never be able to remember exactly what he said — likely it was too disconnected, the thoughts only half-formed and the words even less so, to be worth remembering. What John did remember about that day was the key point he communicated to his teacher — that there was something he was missing. John saw something in the numbers, but was missing a key element, and could never figure out what it was.

There was one other thing from that day which John would never forget: Mr. Faber’s reaction.

The man, probably the oldest teacher John ever had, looked startled, unsettled even, by John’s questioning. He tried to ignore it and go on with the lesson over fractions. He could have, too. The other students didn’t think twice about John’s remarks. But the teacher’s trembling hand dropped the chalk while trying to write the example “3/4.” Mr. Faber’s voice became shaky and a gloss went over his eyes, as if he was no longer looking at the class, but looking at something long gone.

After escaping to the hallway for a minute, Mr. Faber returned and didn’t say another word about what happened. John tried mentioning this to other teachers over the years, but never got a reaction again.

John snapped out of his memory and stood up. He began walking towards the exit, passing through the maze of work stations. Everyone sat at his own station, solitarily jabbing away at the numbers. They all spent so much time with the numbers but never saw past the surface — never came close to the life that hid inside them.

John wished he could show them. He stopped trying a few years after the incident with Mr. Faber, but it didn’t matter anyways. John himself didn’t really know what he was looking for, he just knew there was something else. Maybe if someone would begin looking with him, maybe then they could find something together. But that was the problem — there was no one. No one interacted with each other beyond the necessaries for business, as little as that was. And why should they?

As John walked the city streets outside, he found the same thing. Everyone caught up in their own worlds, inhabiting the same physical space as their neighbors but nothing more.

John found himself walking a street he had never been to before, in an area of town unknown to him. The shops were all closed down, old buildings filled with dusty relics. The block was empty, save for John, though it did not feel any quieter than the rest of the city.

Then he heard it. A sound came from one of the supposedly abandoned buildings. John recognized the voice as being a child’s, though he couldn’t explain what it was. It had no words, just sounds — light, bouncing, sounds. He thought it similar to a quick, sustained series of hiccups, though he was sure that wasn’t it. This was not a problematic sound, there was life in it. It was unlike anything John had heard before. He entered the building.

“What’s going on in here?”

The two children inside looked up at him. Their mouths were curved upwards and slightly open in a way John had never seen before. One of them, a young girl, stretched her arm out towards John, offering up the object that had elicited such a sound.

John took the object in his hand. It was a wooden box, small enough to fit in one hand, though it took the girl two. Anxiously, John opened the box.

He found that it wasn’t a box for storing items, it was a machine. Inside it was a steel cylinder covered with small knobs. Next to that was a series of thin, metal flaps. He briefly wondered how these children could find such life in a small machine, the same life he had been looking for in the numbers, in the patterns he saw. The box fascinated him, and John noticed patterns in the knobs inside the box.

“Look,” the girl said, noticing his confusion. John followed her finger to where it pointed — the side of the box held a small crank.

As he began to turn the crank, something happened. John heard sound in a way he never had before. It was like a group of voices calling out to him in coordination, each voice of a different quality. The metallic sounds were like the clanging of pots in a kitchen, but instead of chaos he found clarity.

“What is this?”

The girl pointed to the label on the front of the box:

“A music box. It’s music.”

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Writer’s Block (a demon in my head)

In the pantheon of demons, there exist many varieties. Some are large and some are small. Some scaly, others slimy, and some clever demons even impersonate angels of light! Some demons attack your mind, while others attack the body. Some are vile and wicked, others… are also vile and wicked, but occasionally grudgingly so. This is the story of one such demon.

Bifron the Dreaded, drinker of the tears of men, was currently part of a rare breed of demons — the disgruntled. As he stood waiting for the elevator up, he kicked a fiery rock on the underground as a physical manifestation of his dissatisfaction. Despite his best reasoning or justification, Bifron still couldn’t believe they would do this to him — and after all the loyalty he had shown them!

This thought, as evil as any of his yet slightly more whiny than most, was briefly cut off by the chime of the elevator. With his hands in his coat pockets, Bifron stepped through the door and hit the top button — “GROUND LEVEL.”

“Bifron… that you?!” the nicely-dressed demon next to him asked. Bifron looked over at him, trying to remember where he recognized this demon from. Cued by Bifron’s blank look, the demon exclaimed “Germany, early 15th century? We tempted that great scholarly guy? C’mon, surely you remember that!”

After a moment, the memories rushed back to Bifron. “Mephistopheles! Why, I haven’t seen you in ages!” This was the moment in which, had the two old friends not been horrid demons, they would have given each other a large embrace. This behavior, though, would be far too loving a behavior for vile demons such as themselves.

“Boy, those were some good times!”

“Yeah,” Bifron agreed, “though I seem to recall you got all the credit for that one.”

“Haha, well that’s how the legends tell it.” Mephistopheles replied, “but I sure do remember a certain promotion coming out of it. How have the centuries of tempting world leaders been treating you, anyways?”

“About that…” Bifron trailed off, hoping Mephistopheles would pick up on the cues that this wasn’t a subject he wished to talk about. He looked up at the ceiling, and saw the “3rd Circle” light lit up; they’d be at the surface soon. After a moment, he could tell that Mephistopheles wasn’t picking up on any cues. “I was transferred to another department… demoted, really.”

“What?” Mephistopheles exclaimed, “redeemit, why’d they go about doing that?! I mean, I don’t want to be blasphemous or anything… well, I do, but not to our side. You know what I’m saying. I’d just expect more loyalty from the big guy, that’s all.”

“I don’t know… I guess I kind of… I’d rather not talk about it.”

After a few more moments of awkward silence, the elevator reached the top. The demons said their parting words and Mephistopheles went off to seduce upright men with ideas of power. Bifron, on the other hand, headed off to begin his first day on the new job.

From now on, Bifron was a writers block demon.

It was not a glamorous job. He was afraid that he would never again hold the respect of his fellow demons. But he had always believed in a job well done, no matter what that job was, and this would be no different.

Bifron checked his surroundings. He was in a small, one-bedroom apartment in the big city. Two late notices from the landlord sat on the kitchen counter. The kitchen sink was filled with dishes, most crusted with the dry remnants of pasta sauce or sandwich crumbs. Flies had begun to make their home in the overflown garbage can. At the desk, a young man sat, frantically typing away at his laptop.

The demon made his way over to the man, close enough to read over his shoulder. He moved neither silently nor cautiously — one advantage to living in the spirit world was the ability to not be noticed by anyone, save those with that pesky “discernment” gift. Just the thought of it made Bifron sick, so he put that thought out of his head. Once it was sufficiently gone and the vomit was back down his throat, Bifron looked over at the computer screen. The man had his word processor opened. At the top of the document, he read the title “The Long Road Ahead, a novel by Pete Peterson.”

“Ok, here goes,” Bifron said to himself. After taking a deep breath, he plunged his head into Peterson’s, so he could get a better view on what he was working with. Inside Peterson’s psyche, he saw a nebula of words floating around. Slowly, a few words would make their way out of the general mass and meet up in a smaller group. Once these words had assembled together, they zoomed out towards the exit.

Simple enough. Bifron stuck his hand into Peterson’s head and commenced the chaos. He grabbed hold of an adverb — “serendipitously” — and with all his might he hurdled it to the far side of Peterson’s mind.

“Well,” he said to himself, “that wasn’t so tough.” Bifron went for another. This time he chose a noun, “vanguard.” Within a few throws, Bifron began to really get into this new job. It almost became a game for him. He grabbed words as quickly as possible and threw them this way and that, causing complete disorder in the mind of the poor young writer. Soon, the words became too jumbled for any progress to be made that night. It may have not been the highest profile job out there, but Bifron had enjoyed himself.

After an amount of time relatively short when compared to the damage he had done, Bifron wiped the dust from his hands and exited poor Peterson’s presence. He felt deliciously bad about what he had done, as he should. It was a bad thing to do, and he was an evil demon. Within a few moments, a messenger for him had arrived with his next assignment.

Excitedly, he opened the envelope. It contained directions to an apartment a mere few blocks away, where a college student, Jen Benson, was writing a term paper. Sources said it was due the next day, and worth half her grade.

Bifron smiled. This would be fun.

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