Saturday, March 12, 2016

Shell Shock Sample

This is darker than the last sample I shared, but similar. I've had a productive week of writing and am eager to share a little of what I've accomplished. All you really need to now is that Emily plays piano for the silent movies in 1917:

The images appeared on the screen, preparation for a major offensive. It was not the United States at war, not yet. Then the bombing began, a saturation of cannon fire in order to soften the enemy’s resistance. It was rather more graphic than Doug would have imagined.

He had seen people killed before. He had seen horrors equal to battle, but not on this scale. And never before had he sat and watched helplessly.

He heard in the music that the film was affecting Emily as well. Each bomb that fell onscreen was accompanied by chords hammered upon lower notes. It was amazing what she was able to add to the score, the ability she had to bring the horror of war to senses beyond his sight. She played with such strength he could actually feel the resonance from the soundboard. It was Chopin again, but she was adapting it to what she saw onscreen, stretching it beyond anything the composer intended.

Somewhere in the rhythm was a beating heart, the frantic heart of a soldier at the edge of panic. The terror of the combatants was translated through mere notes, and Doug knew that she must be surrendering herself to the full range of emotion in order for her to be playing what she was. There was no holding back, but he wished that she did. He wanted to spare her the pain, as well as himself.

He had to look away from the screen for a moment, had to turn away from the tragedy of war. He hoped Emily would too, but her playing merely increased its intensity. He could see in his mind’s eye the violence that was occurring onscreen, each note a detail of destruction and death.

It frightened him, her capacity to tell a tale so dark. It was as if the violence was playing her, using her to spread beyond the celluloid into the small little theater.

The violence on the screen ended and the music became somber. The wounded of both sides were shown, as if the camera could not distinguish which camp the wounded soldiers belonged to. A temporary lull in fighting allowed both sides to clear the dead from the battlefield.

All of what Doug saw was accompanied by music so subtle he hardly identified it as such. Instead, it was a mood, a depression that fell upon him. It was the wails of children who would never see their fathers, the mourning of mothers who had given birth to soldiers destined to die on foreign soil. Again he would have turned away but he lacked the volition to do so. There was so much destruction and yet Doug knew they would run out of film before they ever ran out of carnage to record. The lack of color kept from him the full sensory impression of the blood that was everywhere, but no color was required to see the emptiness in the stares of men who had seen too much.

Then he thought of Emily again. It was in the music, there was no denying it. She too must be experiencing the full horror of it, must be taking upon herself all of what the soldiers were feeling in order to translate it so fully in the music. It was no longer Chopin at all, now, it was emotion ripped from her guts and drawn with all the skill and feeling within her.

At length the music drifted to silence as cameras panned across forests blasted into ruin by endless missiles, soldiers resting from the battle but never really recovering. The silence spoke as eloquently as the music: there was nothing more to say.

From the mass devastation the camera turned to the face of a single soldier, a face that reflected everything the movie had shown. He appeared uninjured but his eyes… His eyes betrayed a vacancy as if he was staring at something in the distance that simply wasn’t there. Somehow the man’s face seemed to melt away so that all Doug saw was the blackness in the soldier’s eyes. Whatever he saw was not what was in front of him. The eyes seemed to reflect an endless emptiness inside, as if all that had made him human had fled from what he had been forced to experience. The silence matched the emptiness.

Everything on the screen faded from Doug’s sight, insignificant compared to the depths of the soldier’s eyes. And then a second set of eyes caught his attention, as if he was seeing double. But the eyes he saw seemed to come towards him as if they were emerging from the flat screen.

Slowly Doug realized who the eyes belonged to, saw the face that framed them. It was Emily, standing up in front of the screen. The image on the screen moved from the soldier but the dead eyes remained, Emily’s eyes, that stared at something no one else would be able to see. Images moved about the screen, scenes of death and destruction, but somehow they were not as vivid as what those eyes expressed. Gone was the woman he loved, drowned in a sea of organized violence that resulted in random death. For all the precision that went into the making of armaments, where they landed and what they destroyed was up to chance. And bombs that fall in Europe can yet destroy a heart that thinks it is safe an ocean away.

From her mouth came a voice that was not hers but the voice of war, of mindless, purposeless death.

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