Mother once told me that I was destined for greatness, and I suppose you could say she was half right. Shortly after my 4th birthday, my parents took me and my brother to a piano concert. While my brother fidgeted and paid no attention to the music, I sat enthralled by how gracefully the pianist's fingers moved across the keys. The music was beautiful, and I was reluctant to leave. After the concert, on the way home, Mother noticed me pretending to play on the air.
"Adrian?" She asked. I looked up. "Did you like the concert?"
"Yeah! It was great!" I replied.
"Would you like to learn how to play the piano?"
At first I stared at Mother, unable to process what she'd just said. Then, I nodded, a broad smile lighting up my face. The next week, I awoke to find a piano sitting downstairs in the lounge.
The first time I played, I was dreadful; missing every other note, but the second time was different. I don't even remember playing, but Mother said I was flawless. After that, my every day was devoted to the bettering of my musical skills, every day I played harder and harder pieces, until Mother claimed I was truly a prodigy. By age 6, I was performing with ease the same piece the pianist had played at the concert.
Meanwhile, as I spent more and more time indoors, my older brother, Damian, spent more and more time outdoors. He was very good at sports, but Mother and Father were only interested in my piano skills. Not surprisingly, Damian became jealous, and also very rude. He called me all sorts of names, but his favorite was a musical term, ritardando, which, to Damian, meant the same as retard. I put up with his name calling, hoping it would pass, and finally it did. Damian continued to be harsh and mean to me, though.
The older I got, the more talented I became, at age 11, I gave a small performance at a music hall, playing a few pieces from Chopin, and also Mozart. I was given a standing ovation, and won several awards. When I was 14, I won the famous "Pianiste des dieux" award. It translates to "Pianist of the Gods", and is given to only the most talented pianist in the world twice every 10 years. For me to win it at such a young age was practically a slap in the face for other pianists who have practiced all their lives.
My parents continued to support my playing, but then the incident happened. Both of my parents were brutally slaughtered. I still remember clear as day, walking back to the empty house after a concert, trying the door but finding it locked. Mother and Father were normally home by then. I walked back out onto the street to wait for them, but a few minutes after I sat down, a passing man stopped in front of my home. He pointed at me and shouted. "It's him! It's the murderer! Police! Over here! It's him!"
I was confused, but I was smart enough to know I needed to leave. I got up and ran down the street, shoving past people, some of which called for the police, too. I didn't know what was going on at first, but that night, as I lay huddled up in an alley, a newspaper from that day blew over. The front cover read, “Piano prodigy kills parents!" I continued to read, and the paper went on to say I'd also killed Damian, who had been missing for a few weeks. Strangely, the paper didn't say why I killed my parents or Damian. I wouldn't even dream of hurting anyone! Killing my own parents and brother? That was outrageous.
But no one seemed to care about what I thought, because the police were hounding me day and night. So to find some protection, I fled my small city, and went to the capitol, New Harbor City.
New Harbor City, 2154, August 3rd
It's been almost two years since the death of my parents, two years of living on the streets, and worst of all, two years without my piano. At night, when I'm trying to sleep on a bench or in a tree, my fingers will absentmindedly play silent music on imaginary keys.
Tonight, it's no different; I'm practicing one of my favorites, a piece named "Fantasie Impromptu" by Chopin. It's soothing, and I can almost hear each note in my ears as I pretend to play. The rough wood of the bench keeps me from sleeping, so I pass the hours until daybreak with countless numbers of memorized sonatas, ballades, etudes, preludes, and so many others.
My stomach growls, making me lose track of where I am in the music, it's been days since my last meal. I try to ignore it, like I always have, and the tempting smells from the bakery down the street don't help. Finally, I can't take, it and I get up.
I'm a complete mess, my once white hair is tangled and dirty, my skin is more grime than pale. As for my clothes, there are holes in the knees of my pants, my shirt is too small and too tight, and my toes stick out of my shoes.
I shuffle down the street, keeping my head down, at this time of night, no one's around, but if the bakery is at work, it must be getting close to morning. As I walk, I hum a simple tune whose name I can't remember. Cool autumn wind blows, making me shiver through the thin fabric of my shirt. I stop in front of the bakery, longingly staring at the rolls and cakes. From the window, I see the baker, a large man with no hair, kneading dough. He spots me and yells for me to leave. I cast one more glance at the rolls, and move on.
What seemed like an eternity ago, in a city that seems years away, people knew who I was, and they’d wave at me, or congratulate me on my latest award. Here, I'm nothing more than some street urchin, hardly worthy of anything. The first few nights here, I cried, but not since, I learned quickly that showing weakness got you robbed.
My stomach rumbles again, and it's accompanied by a sharp twist of pain. I force myself on, now quietly singing a lullaby Mother once sang to me.
"Here, here, here in this place,
Safe, safe, safe in this place,
Loved, loved, loved in this place,
Here, here, here is this place."
It's simple and short, but it's also calming, and gives hope for tomorrow. I once make up a piano part to go with it, but I can't remember the whole song anymore. Just the first verse. Singing it always make me feel a bit better.
Suddenly I hear something, a dog barking, followed by a shrill whistle. The police. I turn around to see two men in black uniforms accompanied by a large Doberman running right at me.
"You! Stop in the name of the law!" One of the men shouts. Not a chance. I take off sprinting, my feet slapping against the ground painfully through my thin shoes.
I can't let them catch me, not until I can prove that I'm innocent. Adrenaline pumps through me, giving me energy I didn't think I had. I quickly turn a corner, and duck into an alley. I continue running, but I'm met with a wall too high to climb. Trapped, I frantically try to think of a way out. Trash cans, a dumpster, all sorts of garbage. Not much to work with. I could use a trash can to get over, but I don't think I can keep running. I can hear the dog getting closer.
"Think!" I tell myself bitterly. An idea strikes me, quickly, I pull off my shirt and toss it over the wall, then, I jump into the dumpster, gagging at the awful stench. Hopefully it's enough to hide my own smell from the dog.
Seconds after I've buried myself in trash, I hear the police men, panting from the run. The dog is with them.
"Where did he go?" One asks. I hold my breath.
"Probably over the wall, only way he can go. See? Those trash cans are piled up. He must have gone over." The other responds
"Well, what does the dog think? Can you smell the murderer, boy?"
The dog barks, there's the sound of claws on pavement.
"So, he did go over." The first police man says. "What now? Should we pursue?"
"Nah, he's gone by now."
I don't exhale until the sound of footsteps has gone, and then I slowly crawl out of the dumpster, smelling worse than earlier. I climb over the wall to retrieve my shirt, first dusting it off.
"That was way too close." I tell myself.
As I head back out onto the streets, I notice the sun has started to rise, casting an orange glow over the city. It somehow softens the harsh appearance of the buildings. I'm struck with a sudden homesickness; the sunrise back home was just as beautiful, illuminating the sky and driving away the dark. I take a deep breath and push away the thoughts of home, this is not the time, and I’ve got work to do.
People are just coming out of their homes, and they give me odd looks as I walk down the street. I don't mind, I'm used to it. First things first, I need to clean up. I make my way back to the park where I tried to sleep, there’s a lake there, small and secluded, and it should be a good place to wash off this filth.
It takes a few minutes to find the lake again, and when I do, I gratefully dive in, clothes and all. It's been weeks since I last bathed, and it feels good to be somewhat clean. I take off my shirt and pants, leaving them to dry on a rock, and relax in the water in my undershorts. I scrub out as much dirt as I can from my hair, restoring it to something close to its former color. Then, I float on my back and watch the sun rise.
Almost reluctantly, I climb out of the water and back into my clothes, which are dry. Then, I set out on my second task, food. I could try to earn some money for maybe some bread, but who knows how long that could take. I've got no real talents besides piano, and I don't have one of those. I'm contemplating my options as I walk through the park, when suddenly I hear a very familiar noise. It's not the sound of a police dog, but of a piano.
The notes ring out into the morning air vivid and clear. I feel a desire to find the piano, to play, to feel the keys beneath my fingers. I listen for the direction of the music, then, once I've located it, I run to it.
I find the piano sitting in the middle of some sort of plaza within the park. Sitting at it is an older man with thinning hair and a thick beard. People are gathered around him, listening, some are dancing to the lively waltz. I can recognize the tune, "Waves of the Danube" by Ion Ivanovici. I start to sway in time to the music, playing the notes with my fingers. When the song is over, the people clap and place coins in a tin cup on the piano's lid.
Even after everyone's left, I linger wanting to hear more. The man who had been playing looks at me, "What do you want, boy?" He asks.
"That's a very nice piano." It's the first thing that comes to my mind.
"You're just trying to earn some coins aren't you? You think by complementing me I'll reward you?" He glares at me.
I should get out of here; I can't let him figure out who I am. But I stay rooted to the spot. "I'm sorry, sir, I don't want any coins, I just want to hear music. It's one of my favorites."
The man cocks an eyebrow, "Really? Do you know the name of the piece I just played, then?"
“‘Waves of the Danube' by Ion Ivanivici." I say.
He looks surprised. "I wouldn't think that a street kid like you would know that. What else to you know?"
"You played an E flat in the bass clef instead of an E natural." I say, and immediately regret it.
To my surprise the man laughs, "You know what, I did. How did you know that though? How did you know it was supposed to be an E natural?" He asks.
"I know the song." I need to shut up.
"Do you? Well, come over here and prove it." The man stands up and beckons me over. My feet don't obey me when I tell them not to move, the idea of playing too much. I sit down on the bench, and place my hands on the keys; they're well worn from much use. My keys back home were ivory, these are wood, and I can see that the white finish has been rubbed off in some places. I breathe deeply before beginning to play. "Waves of the Danube" isn't a hard song, and I play it perfectly. A passing woman stops to listen.
By the time I've finished, there's a crowd around me, all applauding. I was so focused on playing that I hadn't even noticed them.
"Can you play another?" Someone asks. I look up at the man, he nods.
I begin to play my song from earlier, "Fantasie Impromptu", everyone is amazed, and more people gather around. But, when I'm only 20 measures in, another voice rings out.
"That's him! The boy the police are looking for! I recognize his face from the papers!" I freeze. People gasp and back away. Then, I jump up and run off, pushing through the crowd. How could I have been so stupid? Of course the people would know what I looked like; I've been on the front page for weeks! I don't hear anyone following me, but I don't stop until I can't go any further.
I don't recognize that part of town I'm in, and the best word I could use to describe it would be shady. The houses were no more than shacks, no doubt standing long before the Great Shutdown. I feel vulnerable, small; this is the kind of place where you get mugged.
I try to make as little noise as possible as I make my way through the dark streets, I could have gone back to other way, but I don't want to risk running into any of the people from before. Suddenly, I trip, and land on my hands and knees on the rough pavement. I pick myself up again, and wince when I see I've scraped my palms and knees raw. I wipe the blood on what fabric is left on my pants, then, I continue on my way.
The sun's starting to set by the time I find myself in a part of the city I recognize, and I'm reminded of the sheer size of New Harbor. It could take a full day to cross. I decide to sleep in one of the abundant alleys, not wanting to risk being seen. My hands and knees are stinging, but even with the pain, I fall asleep almost immediately.
I don't think I have any dreams, because it feels like just after I've drifted off, I'm being shaken awake. For a second I stare groggily at the oddly familiar face before me. Then I realize who it is. The man from yesterday, the one who was playing the piano. I sit up, curling my hands into fists, but knowing I'm not brave enough to use them.
"What do you want?" I ask the man.
"I want to talk." He says. Deep down, I know this must be a trick; he's trying to lure me out so he can hand me to the police. I know that even though I'm exhausted, I should run, not give him any reply. But I answer him anyway.
"About your skills at the piano. If what the papers say is true, you're a prodigy, and those are rare to come by."
"How do I know this isn't a trick?"
"I swear it isn't."
"That's not much for me to go by."
"Lad, please, my place isn't far. I'll throw in some food and clothes too."
At the mention of food, my stomach grumbles. The temptation of a meal is too much, and my body stands up automatically. The man hands me a cap.
"Put this on, so no one sees you." I obey, and the man leads me down the street. It's late morning by the looks of it. People are mulling about, some shopping, others standing around chatting.
I'm admiring neatly arranged flowers as I walk when the man stops, making me bump into him. In front of him is a door, and he's fumbling with a ring of keys. As he does that, I gaze up at the building. It's newer, built to last, and to conserve energy. Solar panels are just visible on the roof, no doubt giving the building most of its power. Its several stories high, and I wonder if it's all his.
"Come on, lad. Here we are." The man says, beckoning me through the door. We're in a small lobby, and I realize this is an apartment building, rare these days. I follow the man up several flights of stairs, until there's no more to go up. The man unlocks the door at the end of the hall, and enters. So I do as well.
The man must be wealthy if he can afford a penthouse, and it shows the moment I step into his home. The walls are painted a crisp white, similar to that of my hair when it's clean. The floors are oak by the look of them, a rare wood I haven't seen much of since I ran away. The room is expansive, and sitting in the center is a grand piano. Polished until it gleamed, a rich black, this wasn't an everyday piano, this was a lavish, expensive, custom made piece of art.
I'm so entranced by the piano; I don't even notice the man standing behind me until he speaks. "Beautiful isn't she?" I nod. "She was a gift from my wife."
"You're married?" I ask, turning to face him.
"I was. Sarah was killed several years ago by the fever." The man's eyes have a faraway look to them.
"I'm sorry" I say.
The man smiles sadly, looking down at me, “It’s alright, I'm just a sentimental old man. Speaking of which, the name's Jacobi Lester." He holds out his hand.
I shake it, "I'm Adrian Marr, but I think you know that already. Everyone in the city seems to."
"Lad, you're held responsible for the deaths of your entire family, of course people would know you."
"But I didn't kill them!" I cry, anger from the accusation rising in me.
"I doubt you did, but it's your word against thousands of others." I stare at my ill fitting shoes as a response. The man sighs and places a calloused hand on my shoulder. "I promised you a meal and some clothes, but first you need a bath."
Jacobi shows me to a large bathroom, and hands me some clothes before shutting the door. "I'll be in the kitchen, so join me when you're cleaned up."
The bathroom is massive, with separate shower and bath. I turn on the shower, and pull off my clothes. Although yesterday's brief swim cleaned me up quite a bit, a lot of dirt and grime washes down the drain, making me feel cleaner than I had in two years. After the shower, I dry myself with a fluffy towel, then put on the clothes Jacobi left. They're a bit on the big side, but anything's better than what I had been wearing. Jacobi didn't leave any shoes, so I put my old ones back on.
Before joining Jacobi in the kitchen, I examine myself in the mirror. My white blonde hair is it's normal color, and my skin seems to glow. I've never been on the bulky side, that was Damian, but these past two years have left me thin and weak. Then again, I've always been physically weak. I could play the piano and do well in school, but anything that required strength I couldn't do.
Feeling both cleaner and more content that I have in months, I exit the bathroom and locate the kitchen. My family had money, but no where near how much Jacobi must have if he's able to afford an stove and a cooling box. I