Fortunately, our driver wasn’t the talkative sort. I mean, I usually love talking to strangers, but tonight… tonight, I wasn’t in the mood to debate religion or politics with somebody I just met. I had other stuff going on.
Part of the reason that they weren’t talking could have been the fact that they were eating sunflower seeds, spitting the shells into a plastic cup.
The musician and I were sitting together in the back seat. I was leaning against her, staring straight ahead. My gaze just so happened to be locked onto the bag of sunflower seeds, but I wasn’t really looking at it. I was thinking.
Thinking about what we’d do if the conductor wasn’t the person we were looking for. And, more importantly, what we’d do if they were.
My train of thought was suddenly and completely wrecked by a strange wave of awareness. I was suddenly aware of the existence of my left hand. It spasmed, as if it too was suddenly surprised by the fact that it existed.
It was the witch’s lightning. There was too much of it in my hand… or too little, or just the right amount. I really didn’t know, but I did know how to fix it.
“Could I get a few of those sunflower seeds?”
“Sure.” The driver offered me the bag, keeping their eyes on the road. I scooped out a handful with my right hand. I very carefully placed a single seed into the center of the palm of my left hand. I curled my fingers around it, putting the rest of the seeds into my pocket. “For later.” I explained, catching the driver’s eye in the rearview mirror. They give me a nod, apparently relieved that I wasn’t going to be spitting out seeds onto the floor of their car.
The musician was giving me an odd look, the ambient light of the city outside the car giving me just enough illumination to see her face.
“I’ll explain later.” I whispered softly.
The rest of the ride was pretty uneventful. I think the driver might’ve honked at somebody once.
We arrived at the concert hall. I had never been there before, but it looked vaguely familiar. I speculated that maybe it had been in a movie or something. It was that kind of building – impressive, yet generic enough that only a few people would be able to actually recognize what city it was in.
“Here we are.” The driver said.
“Here we are.” I repeated, opening my left hand to reveal the bud of a flower. As I looked at it, it blossomed into a full-sized sunflower.
“Whoa!” The driver exclaimed. “Are you… a magician?”
“No, not a magician. Apparently, I’m a lightning rod.”
“Never mind.” I said, smiling. “Would you be willing to accept this flower as payment?”
“Yes.” They replied, not even pausing to think about it.
“Alright, then.” I handed them the flower. “Pleasure doing business with you.”
We got out of the car. It drove off.
The musician gave me a questioning look – the question being, “Did you really just pay for our ride with that flower?” Or maybe the question was, “Where the heck did that flower just come from?” but that wasn’t the question I felt like answering.
“What? I’ve always been good at bartering. I also, uh… forgot my wallet.” And my keys and my phone, but she didn’t need to know that. “And I wasn’t about to let you pay for everything. It’s bad enough I won’t be able to buy my own ticket. I’ll pay you back, though.”
She shook her head.
“No, really. I insist.”
She shook her head again.
“Okay, fine. How about you buy my ticket, and I’ll buy your ticket?” I paused. “Or… I pay you back for your ticket. Because I don’t have my wallet.”
She nodded in reluctant agreement.
“Good. Now, let’s get moving. I think the performance is about to start.”
We bought our tickets (she bought our tickets) and went inside. The place was packed. Some ushers ushered us up to the balcony. From our seats, we had a good view of the stage.
The orchestra was getting ready. People were lugging around instruments almost as big as they were. Other people were tightening and loosening things like they knew what they were doing. Judging by the sounds said things were then making, I kind of doubted that they actually did know what they were doing.
I felt nervous. I just wanted the conductor to come on stage already, so we could get this over with. I looked over at the musician, reached out my hand. She took my hand in hers. We continued to watch the stage and wait.
After a while, the motion onstage slowed down. Stopped. The house lights went down.
She came on stage.
She was wearing a suit that was probably more expensive than mine, if I had to guess.
She was walking with a limp.
The musician noticed it at the same time as I did. I could tell because her grip on my hand tightened.
The conductor made her way to the podium. She raised her baton. The orchestra began to play.
It was a familiar song.
If it wasn’t for the witch’s lightning, it would’ve been over right then. The two of us would’ve charged right up to the edge of the balcony and hurled ourselves off.
But instead, I focused on the lightning, let it overwhelm me. My physical body became an anchor, holding the musician in place. I was just barely aware of her. She struggled against my grip, scratched at my arm. I was not affected in the slightest.
Later, I learned how lucky it was that her purse was pinned in between the two of us, making it – and more importantly, its contents – inaccessible.
I also found out later that the rest of the audience wasn’t affected in the same way as we were. I think it’s probably because there was no context. They didn’t understand why they were feeling the way that they were. The sense of… loss.
I have no idea how the orchestra members could even play it without falling apart. Well trained, I guess. Or they were just a bunch of heartless jerks. I dunno.
Either way, they played the song. They played the song, as the musician tried to pull away, as the audience felt feelings without understanding why or how, as I focused on the lightning like a moth focuses on a lightbulb.
And throughout all that, the conductor waved her arms around.
The song ended. I could tell because the lightning, as big as it seemed, seemed to get bigger. I shifted my focus to the musician and the lightning faded. She was looking at me with concerned eyes. I looked down and saw that my sleeve had been sort of scrunched up, exposing my forearm. It had been clawed up. My blood was under the musician’s nails.
“It’s okay.” I said to her, rolling down my sleeve. “It’s not your fault. It’s hers.” I pointed to the conductor. She was smiling, looking out at the audience. I assumed she had just finished bowing. No one was clapping. A lot of people were crying quietly, or muttering to each other.
The conductor didn’t seem to notice, or maybe she just didn’t care. She just kept standing there, smiling. She looked so pleased with herself.
The house lights went back up.
It was quiet enough that I could hear the conductor’s echoing footsteps as she walked off the stage, heading back into the bowels of the concert hall.
“We need to get down there.” I said. The musician started to get up. I grabbed her arm. “Let’s take the stairs.” I pointed over my shoulder, at the way we came in. She nodded.
We got up and started heading towards the door. No one else in the audience was moving. They all just sat there, staring straight ahead at the orchestra, which was in a similar state of shock.
Once we got downstairs, we reentered the auditorium. We covered our faces with our hands and hugged the sides of the room, making our way towards the stage – although, to be honest, we probably could’ve thrown caution to the wind at that point. No one paid any attention to us. But, y’know, better to be safe than sorry and all that.
We made our way onto the stage. Still, no one seemed to notice us. We ducked through the door that the conductor had gone through.
The backstage area was surprisingly well-lit and well-labeled. We followed the very helpful signage back to the dressing rooms. We found the door with the conductor’s name on it. I knocked on the door.
“Come in.” Said a voice from the other side of the door. I assumed it was the conductor.
She had a pleasant voice.
I grabbed the doorknob and looked to the right. The musician and I locked eyes. She nodded. I opened the door.
The conductor was standing with her back to us, taking off her tie. Looking up, she saw us in the mirror.
“Enjoy the show?” She asked, innocently.
The musician let out a cry of raw emotion, leaping forward. In the same motion, she pulled the gun out of her purse and smashed it into the side of the conductor’s head.
The conductor went down hard, hitting the floor face first.
Standing over her, the gun in her hands, the musician… spoke. Her voice was raspy, barely louder than a whisper.
“Her name was Adelaine, and you killed her. For a song.”
“Look, I – ” The conductor interrupted herself, spinning around and brandishing her baton at the musician.
I hurled myself in-between them, just in time to intercept the blast of music coming from the conductor’s baton. There was a crackling, hissing noise as the lightning and music collided. The lightning won, turning the music into the magical equivalent of ash.
“Nice try.” I said, kicking the baton out of her hand.
The musician stepped in front of me, raising the gun. She told me to cover my ears. I did.
There was a bang, followed shortly by another bang. Then one more, for good measure. The conductor’s body went limp.
I suddenly felt incredibly tired. I didn’t know if it was that thing I had done with the lightning, or if it was because I was losing a lot of blood – some of those scratches in my arm were pretty deep. My entire sleeve was soaked in it.
“We need… to get out of here.” The way I said it, it almost sounded like a question.
The musician didn’t look to steady on her feet either. She sort of half-walked, half-fell towards me. We grabbed onto each other like our lives depended on it.
Using each other as support, we headed out the door. We once again followed the helpful signs until we got to an exit.
We staggered like that for a few blocks until the musician stopped. I looked up and saw that we were standing in front of a bar.
“Best place to call a ride from.” She said. “They won’t ask why we’re in the shape we’re in.”
We both sat down on the curb. She pulled out her phone to make the necessary arrangements.
“So… we just did that.”
“Yeah.” She replied.
“How do you feel?” I asked.