(it all started here)

7. Ritardando, Moderato

Next hours past uneventful. She practiced, rehearsing entire program once again. Then she took a take-away lunch from the Asian noodle stand in the subway and finished it at one of her favorite spots – top of the fire escape staircase, at the side of the building. As a performer she could sometimes talk guards into giving her special privileges, and she was not feeling a least bit guilty about it. After spending some time there, she took a walk around the Philharmonie to calm her nerves. All these events of last days took their toll on her. That girl and her note. Don’t. The image was still in front of her, so vivid was the scene. “Once done with the performance, I would take a trip home” – she promised herself. But after all, five hundred people were going to see her tonight. She was thrilled and she knew she would deliver. She simply had to.

For about one more hour she practiced all the exercises she knew. She made sure every part of her body involved in playing was ready and functioning just like she wanted to. She finished the practice with couple of her favorite preludes from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. Around four p.m. she was done and, after talking to the staff, she decided to take a two hour nap. She would wake up at 18:30 and would have an hour to prepare in silence before anybody would disturb her. She set the alarm and closed her eyes.

Knock at her door woke her up. Sleepy, she would not comprehend, who on Earth would need her this time. But then she realized that it was too dark outside. The clock said 19:40. Twenty minutes to go – alarm didn’t go off. She was angry, but she had to get herself together and start moving. At least she got some sleep. She thanked the person who woke her, drank a glass of water, changed into the dress she brought with her, and went outside for a breath of fresh air. There was no time to do anything else, so she just waited. That moment, she wished that she smoked, at least she would do that. But she didn’t, so she just stood there, waiting in the dark, exhaling the air which in November’s crisp immediately turned into fog.

She was glad she did not have to apply make up – she hated make up and she knew she looked good without it. Her black dress made her slim figure look even more beautiful, putting accents at the curves of her body, exposing just enough of her to make sure peoples’ attention would not be stolen from the music. Time.

As she went up on the stage, lights gradually turned brighter. She saw the hall being full of people. The instrument was standing there, waiting for her. Her performance should last for about an hour, without intermission. During that hour she would have no time even for a short break – the music was so densely packed. She bowed. The audience answered her with applause. Then everything went silent. She picked up the mallets and took a deep breath. Time.

8. Accelerando, Presto

She never played this good and she knew it. Every time she picked the sound – every strike, every chord, every melody, everything – it *was* impeccable. Yes, she did practice pretty hard, she did rehearse many times, but she would not expect to play like that. She was amazed, and she allowed herself to be caught by the flow and carried away. She knew it would be the best performance she ever did.

As she played the final parts of the piece, she saw that something was not right. The audience – it looked much smaller than at the beginning, as if half of the people stood up in the middle of the performance and walked away. She knew that could not possibly have happened. Something was awry. She played and watched, her hands now moving almost automatically, her attention centered on the people around. She thought she was daydreaming again, for every time she looked away and returned to the same spot, more and more seats became empty. As she played the coda, packed for the most of it with chords scattered all over the instrument, she realized – she was alone. It did not matter to her anymore, she would wake up and do it again – this time for real. Angry, she was using all her strength and skill when hitting the plaques of the instrument, the sound deafening. One last strike, and it was done. The best performance of her life, in a dream, and no one was there to applaud.

Silence hung over the hall. Audience lights did not go on. Nothing was strange here anymore, she knew it was her imagination. She stood there waiting for her to wake up. She struck one more sound and heard, as she expected, a sound of a perfectly tuned marimba, nothing else mixed into it. The echo traveled through the empty hall. She was tired, standing there in her black dress, breathing, listening.

Her heartbeat. Her footsteps. The grains of sand on the soles of her shoes. And the silence. She took her shoes off, so her feet would recover from a long stand, and went out of the chamber hall, going straight to her rehearsal room. All her things were there, intact. She didn’t want to do anything else now. If it was a dream, she would prefer to wake up, shower and start a new day. So she lied down on the same sofa she slept earlier and closed her eyes, waiting for awakening to come.

Her sleep was deep and she did not dream. She was too tired to dream and her body took all time it had to recover. After what seemed as a long time, she opened her eyes. Alarm did not go off. In fact, there was none. She was lying in her black dress, on a sofa of the rehearsal room, daylight streaming through a small window. The sofa screeched as she stood up. Her feet softly touched the floor. Her heart started to beat faster, each beat pounding inside her head like a large drum. Her steps echoed in the room. Everything else was silent.

9. Rallentando, Lento

She woke up, but the dream did not end. She went outside and walked around the building only to further discover that her worries were true – there were no people in the street, in the drug store, in a coffee shop. She felt cold, shivering. Her dress was way too light for that time of year and, even in a dream, she needed something better.

As it was her world, she could do whatever she wanted to, so she used a coffee machine of one of the shops to make herself a cappuccino. The milk did not turn out the way she wanted it to be, but apart from that it was okay. Okay, for it was not supposed to be real. But, in that world, coffee machines still work – she thought. Great.

She went to a big mall nearby and found it in its most perfect state: well lit, as inviting as always, and lacking the only thing she did not like about the malls – crowds. She was not a misanthrope, she did not hate people – quite the opposite – she liked them. But shopping was always a rather boring and stressful endeavor for her. Thus, if she had a chance, she always did it online. This time though, she loved it. Elevators picked her up to the first floor where she took her time getting a proper outfit, suitable for the December which was about to start: a warmer jacket, new jeans and new shoes. She also took a new bag and carefully packed her dress in – she did not want to lose it. At the cashier desk, she removed the anti-theft tokens from her new clothes and left the store. She did not pay.

At the ground floor she paid a visit to another coffee shop and made herself a thermos of coffee. When she was done, she went out to explore this new world of hers.

As she reached the station, her ears picked up a familiar sound – a special hiss, a sound she knew could have been produced only by one thing – the city train. And indeed just as she entered the station, a train pulled out, pumping the air out of its way. The information screen shown that the next train will pick her up in five minutes, so she decided to give it a chance and wait.

If, logically speaking, if she was not dreaming, what could have happened to her? She was still in Berlin, or at least the city that looked like Berlin, judging by the weather and the date on her mobile phone, it was still November 30, the station clock still clicked its way through the twenty four hours, uninterrupted. Time did not stop. Yesterday, just before her performance, everything was alright. Was it the music she played? But how could it create such a transformation? That would be simply not possible – it was not a TV show or a comic – it was her life, and in her life such events were not acceptable. Has she gotten insane? That would explain it. Maybe ancient philosophers were right saying that whatever can be perceived exists. Maybe this world did exist, in her head, invented by her, scrutinized to every detail by her brain, while she was lying in a hospital bed, staring at the ceiling with a pipe in her nose, a machine counting her precious heartbeats?

She hoped that any moment she would suddenly wake up. But, as she waited for the train, nothing happened. This was her reality now, even if for just a little while, and she had to do something. “Zurück bleiben, bitte” – announced the speaker, and just before the doors got shut, she jumped into the carriage.

She transferred onto the underground line at Friedrichstraße station. Everything seemed quite normal, if she would ignore the absence of the human beings. In fact, she have not yet seen a single living thing. Not that this time of year Berlin’s fauna bloomed, but she was aught to see some dogs, now stray, looking for their owners. Still, there was no one around as she could see.

She got home. Her apartment looked exactly the way she left it with her neighbor, expectedly, missing. She checked the lights and the kettle. Electricity was here too. She picked up her wrist watch from the night stand and put it on. She rarely used her watch now, with a cell phone always on her, but now those might come in handy, she thought. After all, her cell phone was pretty useless now – she tried to make a few calls, but received no answer. She did not own a TV, so she went to her neighbor’s room, only to see static on all the channels. Perfect set up for a horror story, she thought.

She took her laptop and found that Internet was still working, except, it seemed frozen in time, suspended. All news she could find were dated not later than 20:54, November 29, the day and time, at which she most likely crossed the boundary of this strange world, the time she played her last chord. She tried to find something special in the news that day, but she did not see anything unusual. She logged into her social network account and typed: “help.”

As she was forced to live in this reality now, she decided to play by the rules. That is, by her rules. She took her new bag and packed what she needed for a few nights out: a toothbrush, toothpaste, hygienic products and some toiletries, few T-shirts and changes of underwear, few score books she owned, an umbrella and a yoga mat. For what she planned ahead of her she probably wouldn’t need that all anyway.

10. Stringendo, Andante

No concierge greeted her as she walked into the hotel building. She *must* be dreaming, she thought. At places like this, concierge would greet you even if you were an enemy soldier storming through the front doors. She went to the computer at the reception and found it locked. She looked around and noticed a bunch of keys and a key card with a security badge attached to it. She started to wonder if security personnel could access any room in the hotel.

They could, she concluded as the lock of the top-floor penthouse slid open in front of her. She made a right choice: spacious number, or rather, an apartment, large, unlike any she had seen before, with a beautiful view of the city. The giant guest room featured a sofa, arrangement of designer chairs and coffee tables, a bar full of delicate spirits, a panoramic window and a grand piano.

It was about five o’clock when she felt she was starving. In this world too she had to eat to survive. The hotel restaurant was located four floors below her penthouse apartment. As nobody greeted her there either, there was also nobody to take her orders or make her food, so she went into the kitchen. She was never an ambitious cook but she liked what she saw there. She had plenty of space and all the tools she might need, arranged in orderly fashion, as well as all the ingredients she could think of. In fact, half of them she had never seen before, or, at least, she had not seen them raw.

As it usually happened to her, in this diversity of opportunities she settled for the habit. She took a bag of orecchiette, Italian homemade pasta, some tomatoes, garlic, onions and fresh chili. She simmered the onions with garlic in the olive oil, adding chili to the mix. She peeled the tomatoes and ground them. While she was making the sauce, pasta cooked al dente. She mixed it altogether and served it on a large pasta plate.

She took a bottle of wine from the fridge, the one that appeared to her to be the finest they had, and opened it without a doubt. She did not have too many opportunities to enjoy drinks of that league, so she used the one she had to her fullest. She made no mistake – even if it was not the best bottle, the taste was just perfect – nothing like she ever tried before. So there was a point for these severely overpriced bottles – she admitted.

She finished her meal in silence, watching the city lights as they turned on and off. From the restaurant windows she could see almost an entire city, alive, with its lights blinking at her. Berlin never had a lot of traffic, so what she saw was not much different from the city as it would normally look like. But this time, the only lights which have actually been moving, were the lights of the train carriages, driverless, moving through the silenced void, hissing as they went.

She put her dishes into the dishwasher, together with all the other tools she used. She took a bottle of water out of the fridge and went to her suite. She sat in the one of the comfortable chairs in the living room, watching the city.

A glass in front of her was just a glass, plain but beautiful. A table it stood on was an ordinary table. Everything was in order, in the right place, responding expectedly and requiring no more effort than usual. But untouched by her, this world would stay as it was for ever, for there was no one to introduce even the slightest of changes. Like that glass of water, she thought, taking a sip.

11. Stringendo, Moderato

She woke up refreshed. Her wrist watch shown 05:58. She woke up, but not where she hoped she would. It was still dark this hour, lights of the city streaming through the large panoramic windows. Next day here, she thought. Unwilling to give up on herself she practiced yoga for about an hour, took a long shower and went downstairs to fix herself a breakfast and a cup of a good fresh coffee. The way she got to this world, she thought, if, yes, *if* it was not a dream of insane her, if she actually *came* here, there must be a way out. She got in with music, so she might just as well try to get out with it.

Around half past eight she reached the Philharmonie, which was now so comfortably located in just few minutes of walking distance. She went past the rehearsal room without stopping, straight to the chamber hall this time: it all started there, and it probably had to end there as well. Her instrument was still standing in the middle of the stage. She wiped it with a cloth for she had forgotten to cover it the other day. As she did it, she felt vibration that spread from the tips of her fingers into the air around her. She was on the right track, she thought. If something unnatural had brought her here, it was still here, and with every touch, every step, she was getting closer.

The stage of the chamber hall was shaped as a pentagon. It was located in the center of the hall, and was as well the lowest point in the entire space. Seats were located around the stage, every row slightly higher then the previous, keeping the shape of pentagon as they spread further from the center. A ring of balconies surrounded the stage one floor above, hovering over the ground. The highest point from where the audience could still watch her were three little balconies located at the three angles of the pentagon, on the second floor. The ceiling of the hall, its highest point being over the stage, while it gradually slid down towards the edges, if looked from below, resembled the starry sky. However, if one would look at it from the higher point of view, say, one of the balconies, they would see that it actually resembled as a giant flower, a lily. But most of all, the chamber hall was famous for its acoustics. None of its walls were directly adjacent to the outside world – even the ground – it was suspended in the air, surrounded either by the large circular foyer, or by the staff premises. The entire place was carefully designed and constructed with only one purpose in mind – music, which made it one of the most prominent venues worldwide. She loved this hall – it was one of the most beautiful places she had seen in her life, and now she was here, and it seemed she could stay here for ever, undisturbed, quiet.

As she struck the plank with a mallet, she heard them, the sounds of living beings around her. Everything suddenly awaken, as in those dreams she had last weeks. She made a round of exercises to warm herself up. She will play her concert program once, once was enough to get her here. Just once, but she had to do it good. After a short break, she started. As she played, the voices grew louder, as if people they belonged to were drawn closer by the sounds she played. She knew she was getting there, but she could not see any change in her surroundings. The hall stayed empty, even if louder than usual, with her standing in the middle of the stage, playing, hoping. While she played the coda, voices had died out and she understood – she lost it. Whatever brought her here, it made sure she had no easy way back.

She tried to play the program again, several times, taking breaks in between. Her playing was good, but every time she reached the coda she knew it was another attempt in vain. After she played for four hours she gave up on it. If there was a way out, that was not it.

Soon she became hungry and had to go out to find a kitchen somewhere nearby. She went to the subway station and stopped by the place she usually took Asian take-away boxes from. The kitchen was not as spacious as the one at the hotel restaurant, but it was more than enough for her alone. She had trouble imagining though, how more than one person would fit in there. They would probably need to synchronize their movements as they cooked, to avoid constantly disturbing one another. She made herself some noodles in a wok and cleaned up after herself. Then she paid a visit to the coffee shop to find that her cappuccino skills were getting better. She knew it was a bit late for a coffee with milk, but who was there to judge her?

After the coffee she went back to the chamber hall and practiced until evening. She noted that different notes, melodies, triggered different voices appear. Every pitch created its own line, which joined the others creating the web of voices around her. She was like a spider, with every movement constructing her own world, even if only temporarily. Sometimes sound grew closer so she would be able to recognize the words. Other times, they were faint and distant. She had to keep herself focused on the music because as her mind would wonder away, all voices would blend into background, leaving just noises of the invisible distant crowd.

That night she went back to her luxury suite at the top of the world. She even started to like it. Even though many things around her were strange, she felt calm as she lived there – she felt in control of her world.

Hours passed by, turning into days, which eventually turned into weeks. Nobody replied to her outcry on the Internet, even though she repeated it many times. All posts and news were still dated November 29, the day of her performance. She was sure she was not sleeping any more: dreams could not be that long, and even if they could, they would not be *that* logical. Time went uninterrupted and she could recall every moment since she entered this world. Cause and effect always followed each other leaving no blanks in between. Every day she practiced her music, cooked for herself, posted a note on the social network, describing that day and what happened to her in general. Keeping this schedule helped her to stay sane, if she *was* sane in the first place. She was feeling that solitary lifestyle was starting to leave its mark on her, she desperately wanted to talk to someone, even though normally she was perfectly comfortable with being alone.

She noticed that products at grocery stores and restaurants’ stocks were always fresh and refilled, as if they were replaced just before she came. That world was connected to the other one, she knew, but she could not figure out how. She was stuck.

12. Accelerando, Allegretto

One day, something unexpected happened. She was playing one of of the new pieces and, as it happened from time to time with the new music she learned, she made a mistake. As she did it, she stopped playing by the score and tried to improvise to alleviate the accidental change. As the music progressed, she got the sensation of getting closer than usual to the voices. She followed it, helping with the music to find her way when suddenly she saw it. He was walking down the street somewhere in the city, talking on the phone, perhaps, to his girlfriend or his wife. The image was so real she tried to make it stay for as long as she could. She followed him for a few hundred steps and then he disappeared. A mistake led her to the vision. If she could do that by accident, she could do it on purpose just as well – she thought.

Inspired by her newly discovered abilities, following days she experimented. She explored the boundaries of what she could do, trying to challenge them more and more every time she played. By end of week she was able to jump from one melody to the other, from one person to the other, and stay with each of them for several minutes. Each of them had their own unique melody, unique thread, which she could never repeat or find again. She could jump from one thread to the other, but she was never able to turn back – as soon as one vision was gone, it was gone for ever.

In few more days she realized she could affect what she saw. Following the melody, if she would make sudden alterations, but keep herself within its boundaries, they would be picked up by the vision. This way, she made a child to spatter their ice cream all over their clothes (she was not proud of that), and she made a man to suddenly turn on the bicycle, avoiding the collision he was not aware of (for that she took some pride). All in all, she had a great deal of power, but it did not seem to be useful for *her* much. She was still stuck there, in that silent world of music, visions and trains.

Then, one day, she took a break and decided to change her surroundings for a moment. She went to the station, found an intercity train to Frankfurt and entered the carriage. She went to the head of the train and found driver cabin unlocked, so she entered it. She had never been at the train driver’s seat before, so she was impressed by what she saw. She felt like an airplane pilot, except this plane was moving on the ground, silently, but with a great confidence. When she was a child, she always wanted to become a train driver, and now she had a chance to try all these controls and see how they would respond. To her disappointment, the train started moving without her touching anything and, whatever she did, she was unable to change its behavior, as if auto-pilot was in control. So she had no chance but to travel along, a train and its silent passenger.

They sped up at times, slowed down at others. They stopped from time to time to yield the line to other trains, and in about three hours they reached their destination. When she left the train, she realized that moving around would not help her leave this world – everything was silent. She wandered through the streets of Frankfurt, and here too she could not see anybody or hear anything but her footsteps. She went to one of the towers belonging to a major German bank, and took the elevator to the roof. There, from the top, she could see the entire city and a bit of its surroundings. Wind was not very strong, but soon she felt cold and she had to leave. As evening grew closer, she grabbed something to eat at one of the cafes near the train station and entered the train bound to Berlin. She did not try to interfere with the controls this time, letting it do whatever it did to get her back, closer to her home. When she boarded the train, she hoped she would discover an exit from this world, but she only felt going further from it, so she left slightly disappointed. As train was moving through the void, she fell asleep. When she woke up, the train was approaching Berlin. It started to snow.

Next days she followed many people. She played as long as she could, trying every time to get as close as possible to them. She tried to never interfere, not only it took her a great deal of effort, but also she never really knew what was about to happen.

When she did not play, she tried to live a normal life in that abnormal world of her. She became a bit tired of constantly having to cook for herself, and her luxury apartment became part of the routine. Trains started to scare her a little, being the only creatures of this world allowed to move by themselves. She no longer liked the sound they produced, feeling there was a hint of danger in it, a warning she could not decipher.

She started to play piano from time to time, but she could never make it produce the sounds or visions she experienced every time when she played in the chamber hall. Something was special about that hall, or about her instrument, or maybe it was the combination.

13. Accelerando, Presto

One day she caught herself at humming a melody. She did that as a kid, but then she had taught herself to stop since most people did not appreciate this habit of hers, and understandably – the music was all in her head, and what they could hear was only a fraction, a faint shadow of it. The melody she was singing this time was apparently her own, for she never heard or played anything alike before. It was end of December when she tried to play it.

As the melody progressed, the vision started appearing. She realized that only a few moments later because it took place here, in that same building of the Berliner Philharmonie. She was in the percussions rehearsal room, looking at the girl sleeping on the sofa. She realized the girl was herself. She wanted to say something to her, anything. She wanted to touch her, get out of this place back to her, but everything she could do was to continue playing. She decided to take action. As the melody altered, a loud click caught her attention. She did not understand what she had done at first, but then she had seen a clock next to the sofa. Alarm was set for 18:30, but it was not engaged any more.

The fact that she met herself, the touch of her world filled her with excitement and a great desperation at the same time, for she knew she would not be able to repeat that encounter. The melody she hummed evaporated as if it had never existed, wiped from her head entirely. She already became accustomed to living in this world and meeting her former self made her remember that somewhere out there was her real life, with people she heavily missed by now. She was never an extrovert, but now she had spent too much time by herself, and it started to feel unbearable. She started talking to herself.

“That is it”, she said, “If I haven’t been crazy till now, I might just as well soon become”. As she said that, no one answered.

Next time she started humming she was prepared. She took the paper and scribbled down the melody, careful not to play it. She allowed it several days to develop and she studied the patterns. She did not know where it was going to bring her, but she knew she should be prepared to act, and act quickly. After few more days of study, she was standing behind her instrument, her heart beating faster. That might be her chance, and if she gets lucky, it might as well be her ticket out.

She started playing. As soon as she did, the floor of the hall started to tremble, slightly, but the effect was different from every time she played before. A moment later, she found herself on the city train. It was dark outside, and she was alone in what seemed as an ordinary carriage. She knew this did not happen to her before. She was wearing her coat, sitting in one of the folding seats for the bicycle owners in the corner of the carriage. Saying “she” though, would not be appropriate any more. There were two of her: she – the performer, and she – the passenger. The train began to slow down. As it did, the passenger stood up and went towards the exit. When she approached the doors, the performer saw on the other side, behind the glass, herself. It was the real “her”, headset on, coffee cup in her hand. This had happened before.

She was afraid she is going to lose the connection soon, and she broke the cadence. She ripped the piece of her sheets and handed it over to the passenger. Or did she? What was happening no longer seemed under her control. She played. Another alteration. The passenger took a pen out of her pocket. What was she trying to do? A syncope. A word. She wrote a word. Doors opened. Coffee cup fell onto the platform. A final strike, and everything gone dark.

When she came to her senses, she found herself lying on the floor. Her wrist watch said 21:17, and her shoulder hurt, perhaps from the fall. She had troubles breathing. Whatever she did, it took all her mental and physical strength. She felt empty. Empty and completely alone.

(to be continued here)