He lit a torch, holding it high when the flame grew big enough to light the path ahead of him. The tunnel was damp, the earthen walls dripping gloomily. Minty Erenstein was not a particularly brave Human, but he was an intelligent one, and he knew that he would rather proceed down this chilly, gloomy tunnel than go back to where he was sure he had heard nefarious whisperings.
Aminton was also not particularly tall, which was an advantage in this specific tunnel. He barely had to stoop to advance, although he was beginning to wish he had left his dulcimer behind. It was strapped awkwardly across his back and had as yet to serve a purpose on this singular adventure. As a bard he was used to earning his living making music, until he stumbled into a “get rich quick” scheme that was beginning to feel like a “get dead quick” sort of venture. He had allowed a beautiful and sweet talking Elvish wizard to talk him into going on this “quest,” but she had refused to enter the tomb with him. She had said something about how the type of magic that protected the treasure prevented her from entering, or something like that. His intelligence had failed him at this point and he went along with it, with only a shortsword, a knife, and his instruments to keep him company.
Now he was seriously regretting all of his life choices.
Minty’s foot slipped in some grime and he tumbled backward. The torch sputtered, although he managed to keep it in his hand. Grumbling, he picked himself up, but now his hand and trousers were slimy. He tried unsuccessfully to wipe his hand clean, but only managed to rub the slime more firmly between his fingers. Minty sighed, and started to move forward again, but froze when he heard a scrabbling sound behind him.
He whipped around, nearly singeing his hair as he raised the torch. He peered back toward the entrance of the tunnel, which he could barely perceive in the dim light. Holding his breath, he waited for the telltale signs of being followed, but he neither heard any more movement nor saw any shape advancing in the darkness. Hoping it was just his nervousness manifesting scary sounds in the darkness, Minty turned back and proceeded further into the tunnel.
It wasn’t long before he heard the sounds behind him again, but rather than turn and see if he could identify the source, he instead quickened his pace. Which, after about 30 feet, drove him headlong into a skeleton.
They both tumbled to the ground, the torch falling from Minty’s hand but miraculously remaining lit. As Minty struggled to his feet, he realized to his horror that the skeleton was also struggling to its feet.
He scrambled backwards, further muddying his hands and trousers. He had heard of such things, of course, the reanimated dead, but he’d never encountered one before. What should he do? Should he just…kick it in the face?
He kicked it in the face. Or rather, he tried to. Instead, all he managed was to throw himself off balance and twinge his left knee. The skeleton, on the other hand, rose to its full height, which seemed to be considerably taller than Minty, as it had to stoop uncomfortably to fit into the tunnel. Could a skeleton be uncomfortable?
Minty didn’t have time to contemplate the thought (it’s muscles that are uncomfortable, right?) as the skeleton swung its fist down at him, brandishing a shortsword he hadn’t realized the skeleton was clutching.
Minty threw up his arms to try and shield himself, but his leather armor did little to protect him from the blow. The sword cut into his left shoulder with excruciating ease, and he immediately felt like he was going to vomit. He screamed aloud when the blade slid from his flesh, clutching his shoulder as the skeleton reared back.
He reached for his own weapon, but in his twisted position on the tunnel floor, he realized instantly he wouldn’t be able to pull the sword free. Instead he reached back for the only other thing on hand: his dulcimer.
He grabbed the instrument by its neck, but as he attempted to pull it from his back, the pain in his shoulder intensified, and he doubled over as blood poured from the wound. This was not going well, and he would have words for that Elvish wizard if he ever got out of here.
The skeleton lunged forward for another strike, but the bones in his legs rattled unhealthily, and Minty heard a distinct crack. The skeleton stumbled and its stroke grazed the wall of the tunnel rather than landing on Minty himself.
Wriggling desperately, Minty managed to pull the dulcimer from his back, and with a swing fueled entirely by pain-filled adrenaline, smashed the skeleton’s legs, thoroughly cracking the already weakened bones. The tunnel filled with the discordant clamour of the now equally smashed dulcimer, and the skeleton clattered to the floor. It still waved its sword feebly in the air, but unable to stand it attempted to roll itself over and crawl toward Minty. Minty quickly gathered his remaining strength and bludgeoned the skeleton with the broken instrument until the bones quivered feebly in the flickering torchlight. Exhausted, bleeding freely, and entirely sure he was going to die alone in a dark tunnel on a fool’s errand, Minty sat back against the earthen wall and closed his eyes, feeling a droplet splash gently on his hand.
I wish I could be a songwriter. I listen to the most beautiful melodies and I think, how did someone come up with that? How did someone string those notes together to make a phrase, stack those harmonies in that pleasingly discordant way, trick you into a new rhythm? How does someone find something within themselves that can be expressed through music? Every time I try to think about what it would be like to write a song, try to put a few notes together, I just think of another song I know, something that’s already been written. How do you fight that impulse, to sing what you know, and play something completely new?
It helps if you play an instrument, I think, because you have a better understanding of the possibilities. Outside of taking music classes in elementary school, where we learned about rhythm reading off different fruits, or learning about rests and the top hat that was full or empty, I never really learned music theory. I never really had to work at it, after the initial introduction. I still can’t really read what key a piece is in.
I definitely am grateful for the natural talent I inherited from my parents, who are both accomplished musicians. Music was always a part of our lives, and the games my sister and I would play would be accompanied by the most dramatic of compositions. We would come up with elaborate scenarios and act them out to our own soundtrack, thoughtfully curated by my mom. It was exhilarating, and it allowed me to both lose and find myself in a good piece of music. I would lose my sense of frustration, my confinement in reality. It would be my tether to my imagination, and I would find complex and indescribable emotions in the simplest and most beautiful of melodies. In other people’s orchestrations I find my own myths, and weave original fantasies, but what I can’t do, or haven’t really tried to do, is write my own music, to score my own stories.
The closest I can come, right now, is in my writing. It’s no wonder people discuss good writers and their rhythm, their cadence, their structure. Writing poetry or prose is like writing music, in a way. Just like beautiful music, beautiful writing can inspire joy, sorrow, pain, laughter. Sometimes that brings people together, and they find a form of understanding. It elevates their perception and sharpens their discernment. And sometimes people don’t hear what you hear, and it’s so difficult to explain why you love this song or that book so much, why those words or that melody touches something inside you close to nostalgia, or the need you don’t know how to express. We allow other people’s words and notes to voice the things we can’t. But can I?
Part of the problem is I am a bit of a perfectionist. When I want to learn something new, I want to be able to do it well right away, and that is often not the case. So I want to learn an instrument, but be so naturally talented at it I don’t really have to practice, and I can move immediately into writing gorgeous music that will be played the world over. Isn’t that what everyone wants? To be able to express themselves in a way that will be instantly understood? To not have to work for it?
But what instrument would I choose? The piano, like Regina Spektor? The harp, like Harpo Marx? The cello, like that beautiful woman with the dark curly hair who plays for the Denver Philharmonic? I want to choose an instrument that fits me, that matches my personality, maybe something a little unexpected. My voice has always been my instrument, and that comes naturally. I don’t really have to work for it. So what do I want to work for?
I am taking this opportunity, in this public forum, to vow to work harder, to find an instrument and stick with it, to practice and practice because I want to understand how to move the notes from my soul to the staff. I want to understand the true power of collaboration, to bicker with someone about how that note should be lower or higher, or the rhythm should be faster, or whether or not the harmony really works. I want to hum something that’s really and truly mine, that came out of my heart and brain, that is no one else’s.
Is that even possible? Is it even really in me? Or am I better of admiring the movements already written?