Reginald Stark leaned back in his padded leather armchair with a contented sigh. These were his favorite moments. He had just finished writing his latest column, and he knew it would be another great success. Reginald was a very respected music critic, with a circulation he no longer bothered to calculate. All he knew was that millions of people were affected by his brutally incisive reviews of up and coming musicians, and he recognized himself as the gateway to the elite. Many careers were stopped short and dismantled by no more than one page of Reginald’s type; very few made the cut. The audience could not see the delicate intricacies that define true musical worth, so Reginald decided to show them.
Rising slow and smooth, Reginald caught site of his reflection in the rain-coated window. The pale light of the fire reflected dimly off his hairless scalp and his stomach hung well below the cinching of his belt. He never considered himself a beautiful person, but his sense of self worth made him indifferent to the fact.
Reaching the mantle, Reginald poured himself a snifter of brandy to celebrate the new review. He laughed silently to himself with the thought of the poor musician he was about to destroy. It was his greatest pleasure.
As he was perusing the framed copies of his columns that lined his office, there was a knock at the door. The sound did not register in Reginald’s mind, for he would expect no one to come calling at this time on such a night, but with a second procession of louder pounding the unknown guest made his presence known. Reginald stopped for a moment to make sure he looked as annoyed as possible, then made his way to the door.
“Who is it?” he asked without bothering to look through the peephole.
“My name is Stephen Jericho, Mr. Stark. I would very much like to speak with you.”
“Well Mr. Jericho… this is rather awkward, considering both the time of night and my never having heard of you.”
“Yes, I… I realize my misjudgment in coming now, but I have something very important to show you, Mr. Stark. It will only take but a few minutes.”
Reginald considered calling the police, but decided to indulge the mystery of the moment.
“What is this concerning Mr. Jericho?” he asked, finally looking through the peephole.
A young man with piercing eyes stood outside in the rain. He wore no hat, and his trench coat was worn away in a ragged hole on one shoulder. He carried nothing. His frame was small but his hair was short but disheveled. Reginald saw nothing out of the ordinary about the young man…except those eyes. They seemed to stare into a world that Reginald could never hope to see.
“I am a musician,” Stephen said. He appeared to believe that was enough explanation.
“That does not tell me why you are here,” Reginald replied, thinking again about that call to the police. The last thing he needed was a deranged musician seeking revenge for a stabbing review.
“I am here to play for you Mr. Stark.”
“But you carry no instrument.”
Stephen shook the rain from his hands and reached gently into his pocket. A small object was pulled out and displayed for Reginald’s viewing. The object was a small cubic frame of metal, no more than a few inches long on each side, and in the center of it was what appeared to be a ball of coiled wire.
“What is that supposed to be?” Reginald asked growing quickly bored.
“This is my instrument, Mr. Stark.” With a slight tug at the corners of the cube its sides elongated to an unbelievable length, becoming almost as tall as Stephen’s shoulders. The coil of wires in the center also expanded, creating a beautiful sphere of delicately strung, individual strings, almost too thin to see.
“My word!” Reginald blurted out, opening the door. “Please, Mr. Jericho…Stephen.. if I may…come in and let me look at that.”
“Thank you, Mr. Stark,” he replied, smiling with everything but his eyes. “I was hoping to play some pieces for you. It is truly a magnificent instrument.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it. Did you create it?” Reginald asked staring down at the instrument, incapable of looking up to Stephen’s face.
“Yes,” Stephen said with no hint of pride or vanity. It was stated as no more than a simple fact.
“Well, I would love to hear it played. Please come into my study where we can make ourselves comfortable.”
Reginald lead Stephen down the short hallway in silence, too excited to form words. He had never allowed a musician to perform for him privately, it was unfair to his audience, but this was too good to pass up. It was apparent that no one had ever heard of this instrument or its creator before, if they had he would have known. It was his business to know such things. This meant he was to be the first to experience it. He was not concerned about what the music would sound like, but his mind spun with giddy anticipation over the article he would be able to write about it.
“Please, sit anywhere you like,” Reginald said picking up his snifter and reclining back into his leather chair.
“Thank you Mr. Stark, but I stand while I play.”
“What do you call that amazing thing anyway?”
“I hadn’t thought about it. Just relax, Mr. Stark. This may be a bit overwhelming.”
Reginald’s mind was suddenly captured by the first stroke of Stephen’s hands. As the music glided fluidly from the sphere of strings, Reginald became flooded with the most intense emotions he had ever felt. Stephen slowed the pace of the music and Reginald was overtaken with sorrow. There was no shape or reason to the sadness, but he felt it more truly than he had ever felt anything in his life. Before he knew it he was holding his head between his hands and weeping spastically. The music had stopped.
“Are you all right, Mr. Stark?” Stephen asked, still no emotion in his eyes, but concern in his voice.
“Yes…I believe so,” he said, trying to regain his composure.
“I’ve never experienced such effects from music. How does it work?”
“I put my soul into its building,” Stephen said, turning his eyes down to his own creation. “I cannot explain it, it is just how it is supposed to be.”
Reginald did not understand but he longed desperately to hear more.
“Have you any more pieces ready for display?”
Without hesitation, Stephen’s hands began moving again. This time they played a fast paced frenzy of flowing notes. Reginald was swept up in bliss. Unable to control himself, he began laughing harder than he had since childhood and clapping his hands to the music. His eyes once again filled with tears, but this time they were of happiness.
When Stephen’s hands stopped moving it took more than a few moments for Reginald to stop his raucous laughing. When he was finally able to catch his breath he said, “Stephen…I am going to make you famous beyond your wildest dreams.”
Without any sign of acknowledging Reginald’s offer, Stephen said, “I have one more movement to play for you, Mr. Stark.”
He closed his eyes and took a long, slow breath. After a moment of complete stillness he attacked the strings with unbridled energy. Reginald instantly snapped out of his hysterics and crashed backward into his chair. Absolute fear flooded him. The window panes exploded inward, frames flew off the walls, rain invaded the room, flames began to creep over the mantle. Reginald tried to scream, to stand and run, but he was paralyzed with terror.
Stephen Jericho finished his composition, gently folded his instrument, and walked silently out into the rain; his eyes never opening.
Reginald did not move until the fire began heating the back of his ankles. Then he too escaped, unable to see the flames that chased him out into the rain.