It was small, stashed between a kebab and a decaying building, with no mention of it being a cabaret on the facade. The place had no class from the outside, it suited Morgan just fine. The room could fit 70 seats and smelled like a multitude of fragrance, cheap deodorants and freshly applied detergent.
This was not a place for flashy advertising, it cultivated its mystery, only through word-of-mouth could you be made aware of its existence. Hipsters, prospectors in search of new talents and fashionable posers composed the core clientele, representations ranged from cabaret to one-man-shows or classical pieces reinterpreted under a modern light.
She would once more play during intermissions, in front of a younger crowd used to the city life in Grenoble. Morgan signed the contract and shook Tom “professor” Hancock’s hand in his office. She ignored where the nickname came from, but it was appropriate in a nonsensical way.
Tom had smooth visage features and shoulder long hairs, he accentuated his androgynous side with make-up, earrings and ostentatious clothes, today he wore a red flannel jacket and white cotton pants. They closed the deal on a metallic table that must have belonged to a workshop and had been repurposed to fit his needs. The tapestry disappeared under newspaper articles, old posters and fake baubles.
Once the administrative issues were dealt with, she took the narrow corridor linking the office to the main room, Cigarette smoke and detergent in equal measure welcomed her. In other words: it stank. Seats were disposed in a circle around the scene, mimicking an amphitheater, their lifespan extended way past their limit.
Morgan had an easy time imagining Tom delaying their renewal not so much for cost-saving reasons but rather to add a bohemian touch to it. Maybe he was the only one that thought so. Another pair of stairs up brought her to the open and polluted air. The sun was setting, she was exhausted from a day of class, cavalcade and interview.
She bought a kebab in the same street the cabaret was in and savored it on the terrace. She smelled exhaust gas, motor noise filled her ears and she delighted in greasy and hearty food. Exactly what was needed after a stressful day. A acquaintance on the campus had put her on Tom’s trail, he knew from the brother of a friend’s cousin and so on, that he was urgently looking for an amateur musician to distract the public in-between performances.
A phone-call, a meeting with a demonstration and the deal was sealed. She would start tomorrow, payed to play and take a look at what could be tomorrow’s hype. Satiated, she took a bus ride back to her small flat in a lost village.
This was the hardest part of the day, she felt secure in Grenoble itself, but maniacs could be waiting for her in the horror scenarios springing up in her mind. Assailants would kidnap, rape, murder and eat her, likely everything at once. Shadows hid right outside her vision, she heard eager steps, sometimes she felt the breath of a madman that wasn’t there on her neck.
She had not met any danger since the end of her previous gig, but her instinct still wanted her to flee this accursed place. Her banker being of a different opinion, she silenced her inner voice and prayed for the best. She locked the door twice and jumped straight to bed, concern and constant alertness had a way to put her adrift in a dreamless sleep. No noise, no pictures, the great nowhere. The alarm clock took her out of it.
That was one hell of a zombie face she saw in the mirror, unkempt hair, the make-up from yesterday smeared across the face, there were witches that looked less threatening than her. A burning shower washed the make-up away, grooming tidied up the haircut and coffee cleared the dark rings under her eyes.
She lacked the pill to regulate the haunting fear nested deep inside her gut. Somewhat presentable, she emptied a bowl of cereal and prepared her bag for school. Her electronic piano in its foam case would spend the day with her, there was enough time to go back and grab it but she limited her time spent in the village to the minimum.
Outside she walked fast, eyes fixed on a point in the horizon, headphones in her ears to make clear she had no interest in exchanging words, the end of the wire dangled empty in her pocket in case danger would announce itself through noise. The trip was uneventful, in the bus she realized nothing had happened outside of her previous gig.
Was it over? It might have just been misfortune or an over-developed sense of paranoia, the light in their eyes could have been born from imagination. It didn’t matter, she was at the campus. Morgan steeled her mind for a boring day: auditorium, mess, hello, jokes, rumors. It was too much today, she abandoned her fake smile and cut herself from the other students.
It felt hollow, attendance was tiring enough as it was. Nobody noticed her bad mood or asked if she felt unwell. Sulking from being ignored, she glided through the day like a ghost.
The sun was weakening when it rang, liberation. Piano under her arm, she took the tram to rejoin the Berriat court and from there went straight to the theater hours in advance. With no wish to be productive, she strolled around merrily, observing magicians perfecting their tricks, dancers applying make-up and Tom Hancock shaking hands with most spectators.
Such a heterogeneous attendance: band of friends having fun in a hip place, silent emotionless drifters that showed neither joy nor boredom, engineers fighting defective machinery and pop-corn under the seats. It was an overactive beehive pleasant to observe while waiting for her turn.
The saxophonist filling in the afternoon breaks had left, her turn had come. Euphoria shielded her from stress and inquiring gaze, she felt only the need to play. Applauds, lights on, the last show had ended. She played the first note.
Charles took a deep breath, the beep beep stopped. Sensors monitored his respiration, his cardiac rhythm and more. If his breath became shallow, the alarm would drag him away from his sleep.
He grunted, stirred his stiff members and felt the perfusion in his hand pulling at the veins. He barely made out his environment, someone stroke his cheek.
“Be good and rest, okay?”
Strong, with limits, Charles heard a sob in her voice. He opened his arms to give way, she sank on his chest and started crying, only interrupted by the nurse coming in to wash him.
Despite the inconvenience, he brought out a smile good enough to soften the atmosphere.
“Here, I brought your phone and my laptop. I paid the hospital, internet will be covered for the week, you would go insane otherwise.”
He inquired with a glance.
“No, I haven’t brought your computer, you would work on it when you should rest. I called your boss, he hopes it isn’t too bad and he’s here if you ever need it.”
He wondered if his boss’ sympathies for his wife stemmed from a desire to fuck her, he was a vicious man hidden under sympathy.
“Please sleep, rest and let the doctors do their work. Don’t try to man up and ignore it, not this time.”
She had been up all night and more, she needed sleep just as much as he did. He gave her a comprehensive but stern look, signifying her that it was time to get some rest.
“I love you.”
A kiss, a tear on his neck and she was gone. Charles fell back into a state between sleep and coma.
Light, a growing and pulsing mass, a terrified Sophie and imminent death crossed his sedated mind, but only visions of a piano got tremors out of him. The girl, the sound, oh... the sound.
It made his eyelid twitch, good or bad, he wanted it, it became the only thing he reacted to. Hours passed and dampened the effects of the sedatives, freeing his mind for new thoughts, but he always came back to the sound.
The disgusting evening meal under cellophane paper arrived, he was too hot under the blanket and a headache plagued him, it got no reaction from him. He watched his own self from afar without interest, feeling no sensations but knowing he should.
A whirlwind of memories invaded his imagination, his first kiss, boring, the death of his mother, boring, marrying Sophie, boring. In the stream, an idea shone brighter, inviting him to come closer, to understand why he felt so disconnected from himself, why he tortured his spirit so much.
He refused to approach it, afraid of discovering what hid behind and hoping medication would make him forget it. Yet his mind could not ignore it. It shone brighter, leaking aspects of a reality that should have stayed hidden. Charles mentally pushed with all the will he could muster to keep the idea contained, knowing instinctively that, should it blossom, his life would be radically shaken to the core.
He could not stop the stream, the frame broke and in a last jolt, his eyes were opened.
He had to find her. He grabbed the computer Sophie had brought. Oh God, Sophie.
I’m sorry, he thought, I’m sorry for what is going to happen.