We went downstairs and headed around to the back of the building. As we approached the mouth of the alley, I noticed something. I stopped, grabbing the musician’s arm so she’d stop too. We’d already ditched the gloves in the lobby’s sole trashcan.
“Look at the trash.”
All the garbage in the alleyway appeared to have been… arranged. There were numerous small piles of stuff, empty bottles stacked in asymmetrical pyramids. Greasy noodles strewn artfully out of old takeout boxes, all converging on a center point.
“Hold on.” Looking over the strangely beautiful, strangely deliberate arrangement, something hit me. I turned to her. “Is this… a song?”
She nodded, her eyes widening.
“Can you read it?” I asked. She wasn’t listening to me at that point, though. She took a step forward, narrowing her eyes in concentration. Her face looked cute, all scrunched up like that.
She moved her hand through the air, like she was writing. It almost looked like she was a… conductor.
After a moment, she stopped and pulled out her phone. Looking over her shoulder, I saw her pull up a piano app.
She began to play. Hesitantly at first, her confidence grew with every note. It was a familiar song. The trash in the alleyway followed her lead. The bottles clinked and clattered against each other, crumpled paper rustled as if they were caught in a strong wind. The noodles hummed, reverberated as if they were under tension. And then, I heard it – the faint echo of a scream.
It was part of the song. An integral part. The song had been designed around it.
I don’t know how I knew these things. I didn’t really know anything about music. But somehow, I just knew.
The musician must’ve known as well. She stopped abruptly. So did everything else. Bottles fell and trash slumped down, no longer constrained by the confines of the song. One of the bottles rolled over to us, bumping into my left foot.
“The person we’re looking for is the one that composed this song.” I said. She nodded in agreement, her face pale. She was glaring down at her phone, as if it was at fault. She looked like she was about to throw up. I didn’t feel too good either.
My legs wobbled. I almost fell over, but she looked up just in time to catch me.
“I- I’m okay.” I took a step back, leaning against the wall for support. I would’ve preferred to keep leaning on her, but there was something else I needed her to do. “If you go online, can you find composers that live around here, that could walk away from a fall like this?”
She nodded and looked back down at her phone, exiting out of the piano app like somebody exiting a burning building.
I took a few deep breaths, still leaning against the wall. I focused on her fingers, watched her type.
She had a weird typing style. Short bursts of speed, followed by longer periods of much slower typing. It was as if, every few seconds, she was suddenly struck by a bolt of inspiration.
Some time passed. She came over to me, handed me her phone. She had found someone.
A composer and conductor, currently with an orchestra that had shows planned this week at the concert hall over on 9th street, known for her original music. She was also a swan maiden.
I had seen a documentary on swan maidens. Some experts talked about how modern swan maidens are incapable of turning into swans. In fact, one of them talked about how they thought it possible that swan maidens were never capable of turning into swans, citing various mythology that suggested that aspect of swan maidens was just a… metaphor, or something. I don’t quite remember. That was the boring part of the documentary.
The more interesting part was when they had someone talk about how they found out that they were a swan maiden. I don’t remember her name, but the way they talked about her made it sound like she was some kind of well-known rock climber.
Apparently, one day she was climbing and her safety equipment failed in such a way as to cause her to fall. She fell something like fifty feet, hit a jagged rock jutting out of the cliff face, bounced, and fell another forty feet. Then she got up and walked away, with only minor cuts and bruises.
Some other expert explained that the reason swan maidens can fall like that and still be okay is that, to the ground and to the sky, they are more like birds than people. So the sky doesn’t want to let them go, and the ground thinks they’re just visiting. Or something like that. Again, the documentary was mostly pretty boring.
But the point is, if this conductor was a swan maiden, she could’ve easily survived a fall from a fifth story window.
“She could definitely be the one we’re looking for.” I said, handing back her phone. “How much longer is the orchestra going to be in town?”
She pulled up a list of dates. The last performance in this city was on Saturday, so we had a few days.
“Scroll up a little.” She did. Their next performance was tonight. “You got any plans for tonight?”
She shook her head no.
“Then if I may be so bold as to invite you to join me for an evening at the orchestra?” I asked her, in a jokingly exaggerated fancy voice. I realized that I asked her in that way because I was nervous, which was weird. We were on a mission of vengeance! But I was still nervous, asking her something like that.
To my relief, she nodded yes. She even smiled.