RACHMANINOFF versus the ZOMBIES!
Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff had excessively large hands. This is not important to this story. He was a great pianist and composer. This also is not important. He graduated from the Moscow Conservatory with the highest marks, and won the prestigious Gold Medal as proof of his prodigious talent. This too is not important. At this moment, in the year of 1897 (Gregorian calendar), he is not widely regarded as a great composer. The recent concert premiere of his First Symphony (Op. 13) was belittled by music critics as being "immature," and "begging for compliments," and "blasphemous" by at least one music critic who was clearly in the corner of the orthodoxy. One critic even said of Rachmaninoff's latest entry into the tradition of Russian domination of classical music: "I would set kittens on fire in order to spare myself the indignity of having to listen to such tripe a second time! And I like kittens!" Thankfully, that critic was not widely read or very well-regarded. Rachmaninoff had read it however and, perhaps unwisely, had a kitten and a match delivered to the gentleman with a little card which read "Have at it!" The only thing that came out of it was that the music critic was said to have adopted a kitten and named it "Purrgei Rachmeowmanoff." But this is also not important.
Still stinging from his recent setback, Rachmaninoff hired a carriage to take him to the country. His intent was to pay a visit to his former schoolmate, Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin, who had his home far away from the hubbub of Moscow, without being so far away that a quick visit would be out of the question. The reason for this impromptu visitation is also not important, but for the sake of story, let us imagine that it is. And so, that reason becomes that Rachmaninoff was visiting his old chum Scriabin because said chum had taken to spreading unkind rumors about Rachmaninoff around town. Whether or not these rumors were true is unimportant. It had to do with certain dalliances with certain professors at a certain Conservatory, being the one in Moscow, in which Scriabin had inferred that said dalliances had led to Rachmaninoff being awarded the Gold Medal, the highest honor for any graduate from that institution. Scriabin was removed from consideration as he did not complete his degree in composition. Scriabin was awarded the unfortunately named Little Gold Medal, which left Scriabin feeling a bit scorned, possibly scorned enough to spread rumors about Rachmaninoff around town. Whatever the case, Rachmaninoff intended to confront his old school chum to learn the truth of it.
Rachmaninoff did not anticipate seeing one cow eating another cow along the way. It can be honestly said, that for all the sights he was sure to encounter over his journey to the countryside, that one cow eating another was not even on the list. Much less expected was witnessing six more cows eating six other cows. The awful sights made Rachmaninoff believe that the imported absinthe he had consumed with his noontime meal was having a strange effect on him. To ensure that he was not experiencing some strange trick of the mind, he lurched his head out of the cabin and addressed his driver. "Excuse me, sir!" he said, loud enough to be heard over the gallop of the horses. "Did you see those cows eating those other cows?"
"I did, sir!" the driver called out. "Happens all the time around these parts!"
"Are you sure?"
"Oh yes, sir! Many's the time I've traveled these roads and saw one creature feasting on another! Most times it will be a raccoon feeding on the remnants of a fallen buck! Once saw a squirrel feasting on a dead leopard! Please place your head back inside the cabin as to ensure your safety, sir!"
Rachmaninoff was not eased by the driver's answer. In fact, he had the distinct impression that he was being lied to. Especially since the driver brought up the leopard, a creature not indigenous to Russia. "See here! I'll give you the raccoon and the squirrel, but a leopard?"
"If you look to your left, sir, you may be able to glance the spirit of the leopard, which is said to still haunt these lands!"
"I think you're joking with me!"
"No, sir, many's bore witness to the ghost leopard! Please place your head back inside the cabin to ensure your safety!"
"I don't believe you!"
"That there is a ghost leopard, or that leopards exist and would satisfy the hunger of a squirrel, or that your head would be safer inside the cabin, sir?"
"I know leopards exist, but not this far north!" Rachmaninoff insisted.
"Legend has it that it was a wandering leopard, and that's why it still haunts these parts, as it died so far from home, searching for a way back to enjoy its final rest! A sad story indeed!"
"Can I ask, aside from you being a coach-driver, do you also give city tours?"
"As it happens, sir, yes I do! Under my direction you will see such sights as where Dostoevsky once had his beard trimmed, the restaurant where Gogol was punched in the nose by Tolstoy, who immediately apologized, and then a quick trip to the Bolshoi Theatre where you might catch a glimpse of the ghost of Balakirev! I can give you my information if you like!"
Mentioning the Bolshoi had stirred something in Rachmaninoff's mind for a brief moment, but it quickly left as he had other concerns he wished to address. "Balakirev isn't dead!"
"Balakirev isn't dead! He is living is St. Petersburg!" Rachmaninoff replied. "I mean, he's old, but certainly not dead!"
"There are stories that suggest that given how old he is, that he will soon be dead and therefore his spirit has already left his body and now haunts the Bolshoi, sir! But I shouldn't really be telling you this unless you take the tour which costs only twenty kopeks! Quite a bargain!"
It was then, as this strange conversation occurred that a man who stood on the dirt path before them was slammed into by one of the horses, and his body broke into pieces scattering in all directions, Rachmaninoff nearly being clipped across the head by a spiraling arm.
"You just hit someone!" Rachmaninoff cried out. "Shouldn't you stop?"
"It appears doubtful that I would be able to do anything for the man, sir!" the driver explained. "He just burst into several pieces! Best not to get involved!"
"His arm nearly struck me!"
"Which is why I implore you to keep your head inside the cabin as to avoid such occurrences, sir! Safety first!"
Rachmaninoff, not contented with this explanation, even as the man struck had split into many pieces, and yes, nothing could be done, opened the carriage door at his own peril and hoisted himself atop the shuttling craft until he could sit next to the driver.
"It is very important that you crawl back down to your seat while the carriage is in motion to ensure safe travels, sir!" the driver implored as he struck another person perilously positioned in the road and, for whatever reason, unconvinced to move out of the way. The person's body splattered into bits and flung past the heads of both.
"That was not natural!" Rachmaninoff declared. He had no first-hand knowledge of seeing anyone being run down by a horse, but surely any body would not be so brittle as to just explode in such a way, no matter how fast the horse was galloping.
"Death is a natural thing, sir! It's up to us to avoid it all costs in order to not become some haunting spirit along some city tour, which I still highly recommend as a fun time! Please return to your seat!"
Rachmaninoff, readying yet another argument against what may have been the most insane carriage driver he had ever come across, looked down and saw a small slab of flesh attached to his lapel. It had a greenish tinge to it and the blood attached was as brown and thick as mud. He peeled it off and tossed it away. "See here, I don't mean to be a bother but we should probably at least consider the idea that, ordinarily, people would have enough time to see an oncoming coach and move out of the way. And also acknowledge that, unless we are in the dream of some biblical figure, that cows would not ordinarily eat other—TURN! TURN THE COACH!"
The driver who, to be honest, had been distracted by the conversation, which was part of the reason he wished Rachmaninoff to return to his seat, plowed into three wandering people. They were apparently so transfixed by the beauty of the Russian countryside this time of year (1897 (Gregorian calendar)), that they had failed to notice the speeding carriage headed right for them and were trampled upon by horses that turned them into ugly puzzle pieces. The horses apparently had had quite enough of this sort of bombardment and began sliding their feet across the dirt path to come to a quick halt. The carriage, not built for such quick stops, turned awkwardly upon its wheels and sent Rachmaninoff flying. Rachmaninoff didn't remember striking the ground.
Rachmaninoff's eyes opened to see a country house in the distance. If only the horses had traveled a bit further on, he would have reached Scriabin's home without having to be flung closer toward it. As he sought to right his dizzy eyes, his vision met with the sight of what appeared to be his driver, many meters from him, trying to crawl away from a modestly dressed woman who was gnawing on his backside, much like the cows who did the same to their own. With another turn of his head, he saw the two horses, unable to unloose themselves from the carriage bindings, one alive, one unmoving, both being feasted upon by country folk who had somehow come to the conclusion that cooking meat took far too much time. Rachmaninoff rose to his feet, trying to stave off the frayed connection between his mind and his legs and went to the poor man's aid, still thinking he was hallucinating, but not willing to take the chance that he wasn't. Rachmaninoff grabbed hold of the driver's arms and tried to pull him away from the beastly woman, but she held on tightly and was dragged along with him.
"This is not part of the tour!" the driver exclaimed.
"This isn't a tour!" Rachmaninoff bellowed as he struck the woman across the face with the sole of his boot until she released the driver. He felt the need to apologize to the woman for being so bold as to step on her face, but after a moment of consideration, seeing how she seemed more interested in trying to keep biting than worrying about the state of her head, he helped the limping driver stand up and together they fled toward the isolated country home.
Once inside the door that stood ajar, they slammed the door together and took a moment to breathe. Rachmaninoff, trying to reclaim both his breath and his sense, turned his back to the door and slid down to the floor. There he received another shock before him. Crawling along the floor, was a woman in housemaid clothes, crawling toward them while toting along a dinner table that had broken her back. Rachmaninoff tugged at the driver's pantleg.
"What is it? I'm—OH DEAR LORD!" the driver exclaimed upon seeing the horrible vision, this young girl's face contorted, one eye glassy, the other dangling out of its socket like a tiny pendulum from an obscenely hideous clock. Without numbers. Not like a clock at all, in fact, save the pendulum.
"We're going to… slowly… move over there," Rachmaninoff instructed. "Are you with me?"
"With you, sir," The driver said. "And perhaps it's best if once we move… slowly… over there, that we take a moment to settle the bill?"
"You're making me regret saving your life, sir," Rachmaninoff replied as they delicately skirted the wall, keeping all eyes on the malformed housemaid who moaned at them and struck her arm out.
"I can offer you a one-time discount, sir, as we failed to complete the journey without incident."
"Are you being serious with me?"
"I also will forgo any tip you may have considered."
"Tell you what!" Rachmaninoff barked. "If you can tell me right now what's happening, what's causing cows to eat cows, people to eat horses, and in one case, a person trying to eat you, then I will freely give you every last ruble on my person!
The driver wasn't as quick to respond this time around, possibly feeling a bit out-of-sorts as he was away from his carriage and sported and unsightly wound in his backside. Even so, it appeared that he found a way to respond as if quoting from some handbook. "The enjoyment you take from one of our city tours, sir, is payment enough, but yes, our drivers rely on such meager displays of appreciation as to make wage enough to feed their families."
"Again, not a city tour, and--AAAAHHH!"
Rachmaninoff had become too distracted by his own scream to finish his sentiment. The room before him, with its decorous couch and lounging chairs, was spoiled by two bodies that had been mangled beyond recognition. The only thing that made these two bodies appear as if they had once been human was the twisted clothing among the blood and bone and discarded flaps of flesh. Standing alone in the corner of the room was a grand piano, a beautiful Bösendorfer, unharmed and glowing with the hue of the bluish light from the window it paralleled. Once the driver saw the same awful sight (the corpses, not the Bösendorfer), he too made a similar noise, and Rachmaninoff quickly slapped his hand around the man's mouth in order to quell it. Given the span of Rachmaninoff's enormous hands, the driver's face was nearly swallowed up and he madly poked at Rachmaninoff to set him free before he could suffocate. The driver took a deep breath after his face was released from the massive palm and wondered aloud if Rachmaninoff were able to feed himself with normal-sized utensils.
Rachmaninoff, feeling a bit offended at the remark, was about to return the jab in kind until he caught a glimpse of a figure moving across his vision, a ghostly white wraith marching across the adjacent hallway. It gave him the rather anxious feeling of being hunted. He peered out of the large window and saw a good number of limping people making their way slowly across a field of yellowing grass with a light dusting of snow, glowing in the sullen luminescence of dusk.
"I think I need to sit down," the driver said, placing his hand on his chest.
Rachmaninoff, knowing that whatever horrors were lingering in their proximity, led the driver to one of the lounging chairs, one without so much bloody body surrounding it, and asked him to sit tight while he searched the home for something to clean the wound and properly dress it with. The driver thanked him for his consideration and offered an even greater discount.
The first thing Rachmaninoff did was return to the front door to make sure it was locked. It hadn't been tampered with, so it bolted easily. However, something in Rachmaninoff's mind made him think that a simple bolt was not enough. Those limping creatures outside represented an incomprehensible threat, as if some disease was in effect and was bold enough to spread its parasite through the most awful of means. He looked down upon the housemaid who still tried her best to crawl forward with the weight of a sturdy oak table upon her back. She looked dead. For all intents and purposes, there was nothing to distinguish her from being dead other than that she still moved. She spoke in moans, her flesh was pale and yellowing with some blotches of dark purple about her throat; if she wasn't yet dead, she soon would be. Rachmaninoff kept all this in mind as he stomped on her head and yelped for God to forgive him, her skull blasting into a crumpled mess of blood and bone, which stuck to his boot like remnants of a murder most foul. If it was to come to court, he believed that it would be tried as a case of self-defense, whether or not the woman was hindered by weighty furniture.
It took Rachmaninoff but a moment to move on, as he had a door to block and a wound to dress; anxiety was a fantastic way to make time pass quickly. He dragged the heavy and well-made table across the dead housemaid and placed it against the door. Once he felt it had been secured, he started moving along the dark corridors of the house, riddled with photographs of Scriabin at different ages, all bearing that dull half-lidded look of wanting to impress that Rachmaninoff had once tried to talk him out of doing. Had he known that Scriabin had always wanted to tell his old school chum the exact same thing, he may have rethought his critique.
"Salo?" a voice erupted behind him.
Rachmaninoff leapt up in fright and turned about in mid-air to confront whoever was behind him and saying a word so strange to his ears. Behind him he saw Scriabin's aunt-mother, aunt because she was Scriabin's absent father's sister, mother because Scriabin's actual mother had died of consumption shortly after Scriabin was born. This woman had taken the reigns of maternity. This woman, who Rachmaninoff recognized as Lyubov, a woman in her forties who bore a strangely placid look, held a silver serving tray in his direction, offering salo, a pleasing appetizer of cured fat. Except that nothing in her grace of presenting this dish to him would save the fact that there was nothing on the tray except the dull gleam offered by what little light was offered to the corridor and a severe dent in its side.
Before Rachmaninoff could speak, Lyubov spoke up. "Sasha. I'm sorry, you're home early," she said. "How was the show?"
Rachmaninoff's mind reeled at that moment. Not because Lyubov was referring to him in the nickname that Lyubov called Scriabin, that being "Sasha," but because he had forgotten that Scriabin was scheduled to play the Bolshoi that very evening. Therefore, the trip he had made to see Scriabin at his home was not only ill-timed, it had also led to a calamity in which he had to witness people and horses and cows being eaten. If he remembered correctly, his name was even supposed to be on the revered guest list, but that couldn't be trusted. A running joke between Conservatory school chums would be to say one was on the guest list, when one in all actuality one wasn't, leaving said chum feeling bruised of ego and left to pay full price for the show unless one wanted to be seen as a bad sport. Once he had come to terms with his own folly, Rachmaninoff addressed Lyubov as cordially as possible, still taking into consideration that she was offering him salo that wasn't there and calling him Sasha.
"Do you not recognize me, Lyubov?" Rachmaninoff said gently, testing the waters. "I've had dinner here a few times."
"A few times? My dear Sasha, are you eating your meals elsewhere? Are you eating at that girl's house? She's not the one for you, I can only tell you so many times. She's obstinate and rude and shallow and is not good enough to lay in the shadow of your genius, no matter how much you try to convince me of her talents. I don't know why you keep insisting that you will marry her."
Rachmaninoff had one more example of Lyubov's state of mind. Scriabin had already married the "girl" Vera Isakovich, this event had already passed. He began building a scenario in his mind: Lyubov, witnessing her housemaid turn into a foul creature and watching two, that Rachmaninoff assumed were family members become consumed, had caused her mind to break open. It would explain so much, including why she thought Rachmaninoff was Scriabin and why she somehow thought there was salo on this empty serving tray.
Rachmaninoff, taking all this into consideration, politely asked if Lyubov had medicine around the house. She asked him if he had injured his hand again and then led him to the facilities where they kept such medicine. Rachmaninoff rummaged through a cabinet until he found what he needed while Lyubov stared at him adoringly and kept asking him how his performance at the Bolshoi went.
"It was lovely—many people applauded," Rachmaninoff said, with as much enthusiasm as he could muster, which at this point, was none. "Do you know how to dress a wound?"
"That's wonderful!" Lyubov exclaimed. "They will surely adore you in Paris as well once you tour there!"
Rachmaninoff, having all of what he thought he might need: some bandages and ointment, traveled back down the corridors, Lyubov following along with her plate of decidedly non-salo. "Did you play your Etudes?"
"I did," Rachmaninoff replied.
“Oh, joy if you did!” Lyubov said, suddenly unaware of the tray in her grasp. She slung her hands out in celebration and struck a photograph of the family Scriabin, all gathered around the newly married couple of Alexander and Vera in wedded bliss. Rachmaninoff halted his progression, so startled by the noise, and looked at Lyubov who stared down at the wounded picture. He saw in her a sudden awareness, a strenuous calm, an instant regret. He felt as if in this moment, Lyubov had awakened back into the reality of the situation of the stalking diseased and her missing nephew, to see things as they truly were. And as he reached out his hand to touch her shoulder to comfort her, to understand her, to offer her a sympathetic hand, a hand reached out to touch his shoulder which had none of those virtues. He leapt up in fright as he saw that it was the driver, his face hidden by shadows.
"My God, man!" Rachmaninoff protested. "Could you please announce your presence at the very least?"
The driver said nothing, no apology, no offer of additional discounts for the ride. He simply balled up his fist, gathering a tight grip on Rachmaninoff's coat which left Rachmaninoff feeling a bit uneasy. When the man would not immediately let go and lurched his head toward Rachmaninoff, Rachmaninoff took his great big hand and palmed the fellow's forehead, pushing it back into the light. The man snarled and drooled, his eyes were glazed over, and he clumsily swung his free hand out to capture more coat. The wound the driver had suffered had infected him, that much was certain, and it looked as if the parasite driving him was looking for yet another host. Luckily, with such strong and massive hands at his disposal, developed over years of piano playing, he was able to keep the moaning man at bay. He looked back at Lyubov who was slowly backing away, a fearful recognition in her eyes, her hands poised in prayer before her lips. Rachmaninoff, in fear for his life, then made a decision, however regrettable it appeared to him. "I actually am in the mood for some salo!" he said, trying to muster a happy look on his face. "No one cures fat like you, mama!"
Lyubov's eyes batted away as if awakening from a dream. "Of course! We have to keep trying to put some meat on those little bones of yours, Sasha," she said as she held the tray toward him, so eager to please and yet so quick to hand out an unintentional jab toward her nephew’s frame, who was not present.
Rachmaninoff thanked Lyubov and ripped the tray away from her once it was within reach. "Don't be a little piggy, Sasha!" she scolded him. "There's more than enough to go around!"
Rachmaninoff took the silver serving tray and began bashing away at the driver's head with it, over and over again causing even more dents in the tray but only slight cuts around the man's forehead and face. The driver released Rachmaninoff's overcoat and tried to have at him with both hands which swung at him like a cat at play; a very dangerous and frightening cat. Rachmaninoff kept bashing away until the tray resembled some ill-attempt at Japanese origami and then kicked at the driver's legs to send him toppling to the floor. Once made prone, Rachmaninoff placed a knee upon the driver's sternum and slammed a sharp edge of the sliver serving tray, created by so much violent bashing, into the exposed temple of the man. The point was sharp enough to penetrate the area and dive deep into the head, but not deep enough to make the driver want to stop. Seeing the driver's head bob about in slow rage with a large sliver serving tray stuck into his head made Rachmaninoff all the more convinced that what was happening was beyond the realm of human normality. It was a mortal wound, after all, and diseased or not, absolutely anyone suffering such a stab would immediately succumb to death's slumber. But the creature that this driver had become still thrashed about as if it were a child and Rachmaninoff had done nothing more but tell him that Ded Moroz (see: Russian Santa Claus) did not exist. Rachmaninoff placed one hand across the driver's face, pinning it to the floor, and used his other hand to shove the tray deeper and deeper into the skull. And he did so until the driver stopped thrashing, all the tension of the body left, all the moaning and clawing gone, until all that was left was a proper dead person, as God intended.
"Are you quite done?" Rachmaninoff heard Lyubov say just behind him, tapping her boot on the floor in impatience.
Rachmaninoff looked back at Lyubov, trying to be a good houseguest for someone who had lost her mind, and gave her as much of a polite smile as he could summon. He then grabbed hold of the tray stuck in the driver's skull and pulled it out with one big yank. He handed it back to Lyubov saying that the salo was excellent no one made it better. Lyubov, pleased with Rachmaninoff's reaction, then said that she would check on dinner, if he still had room for it.
As Lyubov tried to move around Rachmaninoff to make for the kitchen, calling out for her housemaid, Rachmaninoff grabbed hold of her bloody white gown and begged her to stay awhile. With all that was happening, he didn't want her to be wandering around on her own trying to cook a meal that may or may not exist.
"Sasha! Heavens! Don't be so clingy! I will tell you a bedtime story if you wish, but you mustn't be so insistent as to grab at me," Lyubov said. It was difficult for Rachmaninoff to keep in tune with her madness. Did she now view him as an even younger version of Scriabin, or did Lyubov actually still read a man in his mid-twenties to sleep? He secretly wished the latter to be true; it would provide him ammunition to keep Scriabin from spreading rumors about him should he survive all this horrific bother.
"I apologize, mama," Rachmaninoff replied, standing up and trying to find some excuse in his mind that would excuse his actions. "It's just that… shouldn't… I mean… isn't… well, to suggest…" Rachmaninoff was not doing well finding a reasonable excuse to give to a crazy woman, until he settled upon this: "I just love the feel of your gown. Is it silk? It feels like silk. It must be silk."
"Don't you recognize it, my darling?" Lyubov said as she touched his cheek. "This is the dress you bought me to celebrate your first public performance. You can be so thoughtless sometimes, I swear."
Rachmaninoff thought he could see the sparkle of sanity peek out from Lyubov's eyes once more. Unfortunately, it did him better to have Lyubov in a more placid, but still insane, state. When she started hearkening back to a more reasonable frame of mind, she appeared to want to do what anyone would do in this situation: scream, run, pray to God, or some other expected reaction, none of which did Rachmaninoff any good. Keeping her addled at the very least kept her close by. "All apologies, mama. In this light your dress takes on a more angelic property," he said hastily. "We're we to come more into the light I would see it as it is, though no less angelic."
"My word," Lyubov said. "When did you become such a wordsmith? You should write that down. I'm serious. It would improve those sad little love poems you compose tenfold. Who's hungry!?!"
Rachmaninoff begged Lyubov not to concern herself so much with dinner and asked her to stay a while with him, thinking he had heard the sound of shattered glass emerging from somewhere inside the house. It was only a distant and faint suggestion of glass, and it could still have been the absinthe playing tricks with his mind, promoting a noise that could have served as a metaphor for his current situation: the world he once knew shattering to reveal something much more insidious behind it. It probably was actual glass actually shattering, but whatever the case, he meant to keep Lyubov close by.
Rachmaninoff peered into the living room, staring past the Bösendorfer, where the frightful creatures pressed up against the windows, their hungered hands making obscene sounding streaks across the glass. A quick scan across the room revealed to him that not one pane of glass had yet been violated. He took Lyubov by the hand, led her down the corridor into the kitchen. There he saw bits of glass upon the floor. One of the windows had been blasted through, its remnants upon the floor, but that was not the worst of it. There was a single beast draped over the sill, somewhat hindered by shards that still clung to their place, unable to move very far with how deeply these spears stuck into its stomach. Rachmaninoff did not hesitate this time. He marched straight up to the flailing infirmity and kicked the back of its head so hard against the wall that it exploded upon impact, leaving a great mess in its wake. He then pulled the curtain across the wounded window as if that would do any good at all.
So unused to such gratuitous examples of violence was Rachmaninoff that he felt he needed, at the very least, a moment to gather himself before continuing on. The problem did not appear to be disappearing on its own. In fact it appeared to be getting worse, but with more running and stabbing and kicking than he was used to, he required at best a few moments to collect his thoughts, which at this point he considered having nothing to do with absinthe. "How far away are our closet neighbors?" he asked. "I ordinarily know, but right now I don't, so please indulge me. Also, are there any firearms in the house? I realize I'm asking a lot of questions right now, but you know how forgetful and thoughtless I can be, mama." Rachmaninoff turned to look at Lyubov who was no longer with him in the kitchen. He ran through the house, up and down the stairs, checking every bed chamber, peeking into the den, every first-floor window he encountered being scratched at by the infected horrors outside.
He found Lyubov in the last place he expected her to be. In the living room, standing stock still amidst the ravaged bodies, staring at the windows in which so many of these foul creatures had gathered. Rachmaninoff fearing that the woman would not be able stand much more of this awful reality, dashed around the room and closed every single drape submerging themselves in darkness, only slivers of pale dusk able to peek through the curtains. The noise of hands banging against glass were becoming too much to bear as well, but there was nothing he could do to muffle them.
Rachmaninoff lit a few candles on the mantle above the fireplace, surrounded by more family photographs, mostly of Scriabin, and one tiny Viennese ceramic figure of the winged horse Pegasus which seemed somewhat out of place. He brought a candle close to Lyubov, who remained staring at the windows, appearing almost catatonic. Perhaps she had realized the gravity of the situation and retreated somewhere into her mind to allow herself some solace. Rachmaninoff did not know what to do. There was no place to run. He imagined the windows would not hold out forever. He had the impulse to leave Lyubov for a moment, to try to strike out on his own to escape the madness, thinking that she would simply impede his progress. That proposal, however, struck him as tasteless and cowardly.
"Would you like some tea?" he asked, trying to gauge the condition of Lyubov's mind further.
"I would like…" she began in a breathless tone. "I would like it if you played something for me, Sasha."
Rachmaninoff heard another pane of glass break somewhere inside the house. "Not sure this is the time, mama," he said.
"Oh, nearly forgot," Lyubov said, as she went to an endtable and opened a drawer. She pulled out an old Russian military service revolver and handed it over to him. "You were asking about firearms earlier. This is your Uncle Alexei's pistol. He gets drunk and leaves it lying about the house every now and again."
Rachmaninoff was never so happy to see a weapon in his life. To his misfortune, however, he found only two bullets in the chamber. When he asked if Uncle Alexei had left any bullets behind as well, Lyubov said the only other ones about were those embedded in trees where Alexei had drunkenly tried to hunt squirrels. Uncle Alexei went a bit mad when he had a little too much vodka. At one point he had claimed to see a leopard, of all things, but also failed to shoot that as well.
"Won't you please play for me, Sasha?" Lyubov asked sweetly.
Rachmaninoff suddenly thought better of the request. He had a revolver in his hand with two bullets; it would be enough to end this nightmare for them both. In the meantime, as he heard activity coming from deeper inside the house, the stumbling and breaking of items, he sat down on the bench asking Lyubov to join him. He placed the revolver on top of the piano in close range. If this were to be his final moments, then he would use the last of his time to indulge in something that his whole life had been driven toward, even if it meant playing a skilled rival’s work. He would play this marvelous Bösendorfer and lull Lyubov into bliss before ending her life, then turn the pistol to himself. As he considered all this, he tried to recall any music by Scriabin that he was familiar with. With all that was happening and death so near, he was having trouble remembering any of it. But there on the music rack were sheets of scrawled music, something Scriabin was still in the midst of composing. Rachmaninoff asked if Lyubov would like to hear his latest composition.
Glass began exploding about them. The drapes began moving as if coming alive, like restless waves on the Dead Sea. At the archway that led to the corridor, Rachmaninoff spied three creatures slowly creeping in from the dark. Lyubov nestled in closer, her voice beginning to crack but unable to leave alone her deep desire. "Yes. Please play it for me, my darling boy," she gasped, her eyes beginning to well.
Rachmaninoff eyed the pistol one last time, asking God for forgive him for what he was about to do. As arms reached out in their direction, no longer hindered by the curtains, he raised his large hands and began to play with as much passion as he could muster Scriabin's unfinished composition. He filled the room with a singular beauty that defied the stench of death that was about to encompass them. Rachmaninoff played an unanticipated requiem.