sat at a lead harp, her long, icy fingers plucking out a tune, which
was precise, mathematical, and utterly joyless. It spoke of graves
and lonely prison cells. After a few phrases, she felt it drift into
one such cell, where a man sat still and silent, his hands waiting
to scrawl a Sign upon the walls.
He began to cut, using a bit sharpened metal smuggled to him by a
retiring guard as a last revenge against hated employers. The angles
and shapes of the Sign called forth a black ooze from the stone walls,
as if the prison were bleeding. As he cut, the prisoner's rage drifted
up to the Muse, and she incorporated it into the rhythm she played,
changing the tune from a dirge to an angry howl.
There was a scream from a cell far above, matching the pitch of the
Muse's leaden melody with near perfection. The prisoner could feel
the coming explosion like a moment of thick silence in a piece of
experimental symphony. He continued to carve.
Now there was the sound of breaking glass, and skulls being cracked
open against iron bars. Shouting that moved in a cascading spiral,
undercut by a dissonant undercurrent of screams. As he completed the
sign, the prisoner stood back from the wall to look at it, and saw
that his feet were nearly covered in the black blood from the walls.
On impulse, he picked up some of the blood with his fingertips, and
rubbed the putrescent muck on his face.
The blood opened his inner eyes, and since it was the prison's blood,
it showed him the havoc he had orchestrated. The main section of the
prison was at war. No simple riot was this, but a response to the
unleashing of something deep and atavistic. Guards and prisoners alike
crawled over bodies broken and bloody, adding to the pile when they
met each other. Nor was their any discrimination; each killed whomever
they met, without regard to whether he was keeper or caged.
He experienced all this as high opera, the crunch of bone and the
splitting of tissue all part of something Wagnerian and ultimately
unreal. Some part of him realized this was a dangerous outlook. The
torrent would soon reach into solitary confinement, and if he hadn't
done this exactly right, he would get swept up in it. He could be
neither a composer nor conductor, but the unconscious impulse that
Even that was wrong. If he were going to leave this prison alive,
he would have to become the violent music himself. Even as he thought
this, the blood at his feet began to crawl up his legs. He felt it
eating at tissue, dissolving him into a world where there was only
sound and rage. The transformation was agonizing, like being ripped
apart by screaming knives that vibrated against his bones as they
sang into his marrow.
When it was done he felt himself rushing into the steel door, and
through it. The metal melted under the cloud of black blood he had
become. As he moved through the corridors, he felt himself encounter
things he dimly knew as people. They were masses of form that were
warm when he first touched them, then blazing hot, and finally cold,
but smoldering and smelling of puss and desiccated tissue.
There was still a melody to what was happening. Unidentifiable if
one weren't already tuned in to the strange meter and harmonics born
of unbearable pain. And he was the prime mover, the First Cause. All
the blood and horror were ecstasy to him, because he was the blood
When he finally exited the burning prison in the form of a black steam
that shot through a bulletproof window, the loss of the music was
almost heartrending. But then he began to reform into a man. For this
the Muse began another tune. It was triumphant, but still somber.
The creation of a being that had seen terror, been terror, and come
out the other side, transformed and whole.
The prisoner stood up, and looked at his hands, seeing them in sunlight
for the first time in ten years, and laughed.